Fleisher & Jacobson - music for one, two and four hands

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Fleisher & Jacobson - music for one, two and four hands

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:03 am

Last Sunday afternoon’s recital by Leon Fleisher and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, featured two kinds of piano music rarely heard on the concert stage. Piano duets for one piano, four hands, were staples in the parlors of cultured nineteenth-century individuals and families, but most modern-day virtuosos are reluctant to appear in concert by sharing a keyboard. And while Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand is frequently performed, with rare exceptions, solo music for the piano left hand is only presented by those pianists who just have the use of the left hand. Leon Fleisher, for many years, was one of those pianists.

At the height of his hugely successful career, Fleisher was stricken with what was later diagnosed as focal dystonia. For nearly four decades, it robbed him of his ability to play with his right hand. Indeed, for many years, as detailed in his memoirs, My Nine Lives, the emotional toll of this condition took him from the concert stage altogether. But he started to explore the left hand repertoire and began performing again. While he has since regained the use of his right hand, the recital on Sunday featured two of these works.

He began the afternoon with a piece written for him by Leon Kirchner in 1995, entitled simply For the Left Hand. Clearly a piece in a contemporary idiom, it was nevertheless accessible and made an immediate strong impression. Fleisher has undoubtedly performed this dozens of times, and it was no surprise that he gave a masterful performance. Another superb performance of a work for the left hand closed the first half of the program: Brahms’ arrangement of the Bach Chaconne, from the Partita for Violin No. 2, BMV 1004. Whether in the original solo violin version, the famous two-hand piano transcription by Busoni, or Brahms’ version for the left hand, it is a work of both melancholy and grandeur, and Fleisher delivered a memorable performance.

The sole piece for two hands was another work written for Fleisher by Dina Koston, entitled “Thoughts of Evelyn.” This rather formless work had, at times, some interesting splashes of color, but for this listener, it was forgettable.

The rest of the program featured three substantial and appealing works for one piano, four hands. Brahms’ Lieberslieder Waltzer is a set of 18 waltzes, each based on a love poem. One reason I love Brahms’ two-hand piano music is that it expands the keyboard; the deep bass lines and harmony add an extraordinary richness to so many of his solo piano works. In these four-hand works, it is richness squared, and the rendition by Fleisher and Jacobson was a delight.

Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940, composed in the last year of his all too brief life, is a prime example of the qualities that highlight this composer’s best work: melodic beauty (of course), deceptive simplicity, and expansiveness but within a clear structure.

While the preceding two works featured highly capable playing by both Fleisher and Jacobson, they saved the virtuoso fireworks for the last piece, a four-hand arrangement by Lucien Garban of Ravel’s masterpiece, La Valse. It was a stirring conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable concert.

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Re: Fleisher & Jacobson - music for one, two and four hands

Post by John F » Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:38 am

There's a small repertory for piano three hands, much of it written or arranged for the English pianist Cyril Smith who lost the use of one arm after a stroke. He performed with his wife, the pianist Phyllis Sellick. But I don't suppose that music would have been very useful to the Fleishers, since Smith's working hand was his right, not his left.
John Francis

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