Leon Fleisher is considered a living legend among the coterie of distinguished American pianists who emerged in the late forties and early fifties. Students consider Fleisher the “Obi-Wan Kenobi of the piano,” and travel from all over the globe come to work with him or even just sit on his master classes, just as pianists in the first half of the 20th century sought out Fleisher’s youthful teacher and mentor Artur Schnabel.
In a certain sense, the present complete collection of Fleisher’s recordings for Sony Classical and its predecessors (Epic and Columbia Masterworks) demarcates the personal and musical twists and turns of his career journey. We hear Fleisher soon after his Brussels victory, followed by his now iconic Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schumann and Grieg concerto collaborations with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, along with highly acclaimed solo recordings. Two discs represent Fleisher at the peak of his later career playing concertos and recitals for the left hand. Lastly, Fleisher’s formidable gifts as a Mozart player as revealed in his C major K 503 concerto recording yielded further bounty with his two-handed return a half-century later in the K 242, K 414 and K 488 concertos featured on the collection’s most recent release.
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On the podium, Fleisher championed a wide range of new music, starting with the Washington DC-based Theater Chamber Players, and later as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s associate conductor. Fleisher also introduced innovative curriculum ideas during his respective artistic director tenures at the Tanglewood and Aspen music centers. However, it was the piano that brought Fleisher into the public eye. A child prodigy who became Artur Schnabel’s youngest student at age ten, Fleisher went on to win first prize at the 1952 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, launching a major international career on the concert platform and recording studio.
In the mid-sixties, the onset of what was later diagnosed as focal dystonia in the right hand forced Fleisher to curtail his playing. As Fleisher sought a variety of remedies, he resumed concertizing with repertoire for left hand.