Friday, August 24, 2012

Leon Fleisher plays Schubert

   Considering style of many composers who died in their thirties we have to remember we don’t have their mature works and what we can see is only a part of process for reaching their own expression. Many of great composers in 18th and 19th century died in the prime of life. In romantic period this was almost a rule, artists were dying early and their lives were paid for with suffering and disease. Franz Schubert is one of many who fit into the scheme. He lived in poverty, died very prematurely and yet he is one of greatest romantic composers. His songs and instrumental works define romantic style. Especially compositions from last years of his life can be seen as definition of romantic style.
   Among many Schubert’s compositions last three of his piano sonatas in C Minor, A Major and B-flat Major have great importance. Numbered decades after his death as 19th, 20th and 21st (in Deutsch’s catalogue 958, 959 and 960), these three sonatas create new formal shape of the form as more unified in its cyclic development. Tonal contrasts, expansion as main method of material modification, subordination of the various elements and means of expression to one lineage and aesthetic consistency are the features giving this works special place in the history of music.
   Especially Sonata B-flat major is legendary. The significance of this work is also related to the legend, saying composer sensing his death, wrote a farewell song. His last Piano Sonata Schubert wrote just weeks before his death. Deep sadness of second movement can be overwhelming but light, dancing scherzo and heroic drama of final movement clearly show this is not the type of funeral music. But still included in this sonata solutions can be seen as Schubert's artistic testament, even if not intended.

Leon Fleisher plays Schubert Sonata B-flat (1979)

   While live recitals are full of other Schubert’s compositions, sometimes much easier but still phenomenally attractive for listeners, last Piano Sonata is also one of most frequent recorded piano compositions. Among best interpreters of this work is Leon Fleisher, artist who recorded Sonata B-flat Major twice. He debuted in age of eight and when he played with New York Philharmonic at the age of sixteen, conductor Pierre Monteux announced him as “pianistic find of the century”. After winning Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1952, he became one of the most appreciated pianists in US. Exclusive recording contract with Columbia Masterpieces resulted in long term collaboration with George Szell and Cleveland Orchestra and highly valued recordings of piano concerti by Mozart (25th Piano Concerto), Beethoven and Brahms, Schumann, Grieg and Rachmaninoff.
   The recording of last Schubert’s Sonata for Piano from July 1954 shows Leon Fleisher in best shape. This performance of Sonata B-flat Major D 960 charms with its freshness and openness. The perfect technique is only its initial point. The launch of the internal energy and the emotional depth of experience are its aim and destination. Fleisher’s interpretation is melodious and dramatic, rhythmic and lyrical with pronounced respect for the work, revealing a desire to reconstruct the composer’s idea. The touch of class characterizes also the cycle of 12 Deutsche Tänze (Ländler) op. 171, D. 790 recorded in May 1955. This beautiful set has been republished by CBS in 1979 (CBS 61862). One of best piano recordings – for perfect rendition and best quality of sound – it is pure magic.

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