"THE ESSENTIAL LEON FLEISHER" - music of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schubert,
Mozart, Grieg, Korngold and Ravel
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. Piano Concerto No.
2 in F minor, Op. 21.
ANDRÁS SCHIFF plays Haydn, Schumann, Handel, Brahms, Reger, and Smetana
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83. CHOPIN: Piano
Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21. Polonaise, Op. 53.
POULENC: Les Animaux modèles. Concert champetre
pour piano et orchestre. Improvisation 13 & 15
Sony Classical's new Leon Fleisher set is called The Essential Leon Fleisher, a mish-mash of recordings he made for the label mostly in the 1950's, excerpts from sonatas, concertos and other works. Probably the many admirers of this distinctive pianist already have these performances, few of which are offered complete. . We do have Ravel's Left Hand Concerto in the 1991 Boston Symphony/Ozawa recording. He recorded the same concerto earlier for Vanguard with the Baltimore Symphony directed by Sergiu Comissiona; many feel that version is superior. And the disk ends with Fleisher's spectacular performance of Alborada del gracioso, also available elsewhere. My admiration for Fleisher increased even more when he recently wrote of how difficult it was for him to accept the December Kennedy Center Honors Award because of his being required to attend a reception afterwards at the White House. In a letter made public, he stated he profoundly respects the presidency but is horrified by many of President Bush's policies. He decided to attend wearing a peace symbol around his neck and a purple ribbon on his lapel, at once showing support for our young men and women in the armed services and calling for their earliest return home. His family did the same, as did a number of fellow attendees who, over the weekend's various events, asked him for ribbons of their own. To read Fleisher's entire open letter, you'll find it on the Washington Post WEBSITE
Music & Arts has reissued a recording that attracted a lot of attention when first released by Westminster more than a half-century ago, the two Chopin concertos played by Paul Badura-Skoda, Viennese pianist who already had a solid reputation for his recordings of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven. He offers beautifully played performance of these two works, with Artur Rodzinski providing one of the most sensitive readings of the orchestral accompaniments you'll ever hear. In order to get the two concertos onto a single LP it was necessary to make a major cut in the long introduction to Concerto No. 1, but most listeners probably won't mind—many collectors marveled at the time that is was possible to get well over an hour on a single LP.
Warner Classics has two 6-disk sets of splendid recordings by Monique Haas and András Schiff. Haas (1909-1987) was one of the most distinguished French pianists of her time This set includes all of her Erato Debussy and Ravel recordings made in 1968 and 1972. Schiff has made dozens of recordings, mostly Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. This reissue offers nine Haydn sonatas, two disks devoted to Schumann, plus Handel, Brahms and Reger—but for many the highlight will be the CD devoted to scintillating performances of 14 dances by Smetana. These recordings are quite recent, from 1995 to 1999. The original recordings are still in the catalog at full-price; this is an opportunity to get them at lesser cost. And one should not miss Schiff's dazzling performances of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 and Dohnanyi's Nursery Tune Variations with Solti and the Chicago Symphony—long out-of-print, but, fortunately, ArkivMusic has kindly made it available. Program notes on both of the Warner Classics are skimpy, but the price is right.
What a pleasure it is to hear the mighty Arthur Rubinstein in live performances recorded in Warsaw's National Philharmonic Hall in 1960 when he was in Poland as Honorary Chairman of the 6th International Piano Competition (which was won by 18-year old Maurizio Pollini). And as part of the festivities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Chopin's birth, Rubinstein appeared as soloist in these concerto performances. He was in his best technical form (more so than in his BBC performance of the Brahms conducted by Colin Davis 8 years later). There was no thought of issuing these performances commercially, so the balance between soloist and orchestra is far more natural than it is in most Rubinstein concerto recordings that almost always placed undue prominence on the piano. What is heard on this new set is playing in the grand style, total involvement in the music and the excitement of live performance at its best. Disk 2 contains a majestic performance of Rubinstein's encore, Chopin's A-flat Polonaise, and almost an hour of extended rehearsal excerpts of the Brahms concert. Recorded quality is excellent. This is a full-price issue, but one admirers of Rubinstein will not want to miss.
A most unusual CD of music of Francis Poulenc has been issued by Avie. It features the complete 8-movement delightful ballet The Model Animals composed in 1940 with a plot based on fables of La Fontaine. The unjustly neglected score is a delight for Poulenc lovers, but even of more interest is Concert champetre written in 1927-1928 for Wanda Landowska. It's a charming concerto when played on the harpsichord and perhaps only on recordings can the solo instrument be heard to advantage. My friend Charles Gerhardt told me of a performance he heard in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski on the podium, with Landowska as soloist. He said she was virtually inaudible except when playing solo. Poulenc himself was soloist in a piano performance (the composer's only appearance with the New York Philharmonic) conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos from a concert in 1948 which is included in the NYP's 10-CD "Historic Broadcasts 1923-1987" set—a magnificent compilation that you might be able to find on the internet. Read RD's REVIEW on this site. In the meantime, should you wish to hear this imaginative work played on the piano, here is its only currently available recording featuring Stefano Bolliani, who is known generally for his work in jazz, an appropriate soloist. The pianist also plays his own "elaborated" versions of two of the brief Improvisations, gentle, reflective music that one is unlikely to hear in the concert hall.
R.E.B. (February 2008)