Pianist Leon Fleisher proved himself a musical poet when he returned to Kansas City Friday night to perform with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall. Fleisher, a longtime friend and colleague of conductor Michael Stern, played Maurice Ravels Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand with technical brilliance and artistic finesse.
By TIMOTHY L. MCDONALD
Special to The Star
Fleishers story is well-known: In the midst of a brilliant career he was struck with a neurological impairment that affected his right hand. As a result, he specialized in works for the left hand alone. Years later, after aggressive medical treatment, he can now use both hands again.
Ravels work opened with murky and sinuous lines for the bassoon and contrabassoon. A passage for the soloist followed. Its often said that the sheer magnitude of notes in the Ravel concerto makes it sound as if it were written for two hands. Fleisher demonstrated technical prowess, spanning the entire keyboard with sure tone and virtuosity.
The work features a kaleidoscope of instrumental colors, and Stern and the orchestra displayed them beautifully. Fleishers final cadenza combined technical difficulty and wonderful shimmering waves of sound.
After much applause and some gentle coaxing from Stern, Fleisher returned to the stage to play something he described as a little out of the box. He added, I think Ravel would have liked it in the tune there are twelve different notes, referring to modernistic tendencies in the composers music.
Fleisher the poet proceeded to play a lush and beautiful left-hand-only arrangement of Jerome Kerns classic All the Things You Are.
The orchestra was less successful with Leonard Bernsteins brassy symphonic suite from On the Waterfront, a concert version of the 1954 film score. The work opened with an aural intensity charged with insistent rhythms and brassy dissonance that successfully captured the gritty image of urban America in mid-century.
However, the placid central section of the work was long, and it seemed as if the orchestra strained to maintain energy at times. While a couple of faulty brass solo notes were audible in the softer sections, overall the work was pleasant but not inspiring.
The concert ended with the voluptuous Scheherazade, Op. 35 by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, based on the classic literary work The Arabian Nights. In addition to superb emotional ensemble playing, the work featured outstanding soloists, especially concertmaster Noah Geller, who played the recurring violin theme with breathtaking tone and expression.