This is a really fine recording of the Schubert sonata,
a favorite of mine and one of the great works for solo
piano. It even gets plugged in one of Kay Redfield Jamison's
books about bi-polar disorder for its emotional complexity.
Everything about this performance of the sonata is compelling
and characterful. Maybe Jamison was on to something--the admixture of serenity and turbulence seems to me to be what
is most attractive about this music.
Until Leon Fleisher played it at Carnegie Hall last year,
and I read the NYT review, I did not know that it had been
in his repertoire, but it makes sense since he was a pupil
of Artur Schnabel, who was a pioneer in performing Schubert
piano sonatas. As it turns out, Fleisher recorded the sonata
for Columbia, probably in the early '50s, and one wonders whether that recording could be better than this one fifty
years later and after all that the pianist has been through.
I doubt it.
Most classical music fans of my generation know the early recordings of Leon Fleisher, particularly those of the
Beethoven and Brahms concertos accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Yet after a really promising
career, this pianist suffered a neurological disorder with his
right hand and for many years could only play the handful of pieces written for the left hand, and he did them very well.
I don't know all the details of his recovery, but I recall that
he had some modest successes in regular repertory from time to time, but also some setbacks where he had intended to play regular (two-handed) pieces but could not manage to do so, I think in the early to mid-'90s, thirty years after his career stalled.
A few years ago, I heard him play the extremely demanding first concerto by Brahms, and then a year or so later the equally taxing second. Both seemed pretty solid, especially the first concerto, played in Chicago. Critics were mixed in their reviews. The reviews of the NYC Carnegie recital in October of 2003 were very favorable, and while I did not attend that event,
I am really pleased that Fleisher has now recorded the sonata.
The bonus pieces add a little variety to the disc, and there are some interesting remarks by the pianist in the liner notes.
What's more, it seems that some of the proceeds from sales will go to a medical research organization.