WORKS: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand; Piano Concerto No. 4 in B flat; Diversions for Piano
PERFORMER: Leon Fleisher (piano); Boston SO/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: SK 47188 DDD
Here’s a bright idea: putting together the three most successful works commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right arm in the Great War. Ravel’s is the masterpiece (though Wittgenstein didn’t see it that way), and it has a strong, cohesive performance.
Fleisher announces himself with steely tone, but continues with a broad, singing line that he maintains proudly in the second theme, where many pianists relax. The central and final build-ups are steady, relentless, and eventually cathartic.
Prokofiev’s is a surprising case of neglect. Its understated, wry opening leaves unfinished business – explored in the middle movements, excised but not quite eliminated from the brief finale. Maybe the music is short of long-term dramatic contrast, but the playing is highly persuasive as it characterises the quick-changing episodes, and has left me with an appetite for the concerto that I didn’t have before. The Britten, Wittgenstein’s favourite, is weaker: a brittle sequence of attractive, clever variations, resourceful in piano writing, big on prowess, small in heart.
But it’s worth a hearing, particularly in such company, supported alertly by the orchestra and given warm-toned, well-balanced sound. If you happen to have the other Ravel concerto on its own, say in Argerich’s or Michelangeli’s recordings, the disc is especially recommendable. Robert Maycock