Otto Klemperer;   Leon Fleisher    (Archipel 0348)
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Otto Klemperer;   Leon Fleisher    (Archipel 0348)
C0663. OTTO KLEMPERER Cond. Kölner Rundfunks S.O.: Egmont Overture; w.Leon Fleisher: Concerto #4 in G; Rosbaud Cond. Leon Fleisher: Concerto #2 in B-flat (all Beethoven). Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4035122403480


“Leon Fleisher, a leading American pianist in the 1950s and early ’60s who was forced by an injury to his right hand to channel his career into conducting, teaching and mastering the left-hand repertoire, came to believe that his career-altering malady, focal dystonia, was caused by overpracticing – ‘seven or eight hours a day of pumping ivory’, as he told THE NEW YORK TIMES in a 1996 interview - and for 30 years he tried virtually any cure that looked promising, including shots of lidocaine, rehabilitation therapy, psychotherapy, shock treatments, Rolfing and EST. At times, he later said, he was so despondent that he considered suicide. But he also realized that the musicality and incisiveness that had been so widely admired in his early years could be mined in other ways. He had joined the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, in Baltimore, in 1959, and he devoted himself more fully to teaching, both at Peabody and at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he was artistic director from 1986 to 1997. He also made his way through the estimable catalog of works composed by Ravel, Prokofiev and many others for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein (the brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), who lost his right arm during World War I, and commissioned new left-hand works from American composers. He helped start the Theater Chamber Players in Washington. And he began conducting. Eventually, a combination of Rolfing - a deep massage technique - and Botox injections provided sufficient relief that he was able to resume his career as a two-handed pianist in 1995. He continued to play recitals and concertos, and to make recordings, until last year.

Mr. Fleisher often pointed out after his comeback that he was not, and never would be, fully cured. But he also acknowledged, late in life, that the incapacitation of his right hand in 1964 ultimately gave him a far more varied musical life than he might have had if he had been able to pursue a conventional career as a virtuoso pianist. That realization is implicit in the title of his autobiography, MY NINE LIVES: A MEMOIR OF MANY CAREERS IN MUSIC (2010), which he wrote with the music critic Anne Midgette.

Early in his career, though, Mr. Fleisher was a commanding pianist who produced a warm, sharply etched and thoughtfully contoured sound that was ideally suited to 19th-century Viennese classics - Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert, most notably - but also yielded illuminating readings of Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Liszt, and of contemporary American composers like Roger Sessions (with whom he briefly studied music theory) and Aaron Copland. Mr. Fleisher’s recordings of the Brahms and Beethoven piano concertos with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, made between 1958 and 1963, are still considered among the most vivid and moving accounts of those works. In the 1990s, he recorded spellbinding performances of the peaks of the left-hand repertoire, including concertos by Ravel, Prokofiev and Britten, chamber music by Korngold and Schmidt, and solo works by Saint-Saëns, Godowsky and Bach (Brahms’ left-hand arrangement of the Chaconne from the Partita #2 for solo violin).

Even after he returned to recording two-hand works, on the albums TWO HANDS (2004) and THE JOURNEY (2006), he continued to revisit the left-hand works that had kept him going for three decades. His album ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE [P1109] (2014) included not only left-hand arrangements of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ and the Jerome Kern song that gave the collection its name, but also pieces composed for Mr. Fleisher by George Perle and Leon Kirchner, and a deeply thoughtful, spacious reconsideration of the Bach-Brahms Chaconne.

Leon Fleisher was born in San Francisco on July 23, 1928, to Isidore and Bertha Fleisher. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe - he was from Odessa, then in Russia, now in Ukraine; she was from Poland - each managed one of the family’s two hat shops. An older brother, Raymond, was given piano lessons. He showed little interest in them, but when Raymond went out to play after his lessons, Leon, who was then 4 years old, would go to the piano and repeat, by ear, everything he had heard. His mother soon decided that Leon, rather than Raymond, should study the instrument. She made her intentions for her younger son clear: He would either be the first Jewish president of the United States or he would be a concert pianist. So devoted was his mother to his musical training that after two weeks of kindergarten, during which he objected strenuously to nap time, she withdrew him from public school and hired tutors so he could devote his time to practicing at the piano. She also found ways of bringing him to the attention of two important San Francisco conductors, Pierre Monteux and Alfred Hertz, who in turn persuaded the pianist Artur Schnabel to take Leon on as a student in 1938, when he was 9, despite his policy of not teaching children.

By the time Leon began working with Schnabel, he had already played a few concerts, but Schnabel’s single condition for teaching the boy was that there be no more concerts. Schnabel relaxed the rule in 1944 and allowed Mr. Fleisher to play the Brahms Piano Concerto #1 in d minor with Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony and then with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, also with Monteux conducting. Noel Strauss, reviewing the performance for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote that Mr. Fleisher, making his New York debut, ‘scored heavily in the exacting work and at once established himself as one of the most remarkably gifted of the younger generation of American keyboard artists’. In 1945, at Ravinia, Mr. Fleisher played the Brahms again - it quickly became one of his signature pieces - as well as the Liszt Concerto #2 in A, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He also performed four concertos at Ravinia the next summer, under the direction of William Steinberg and Szell, who soon engaged Mr. Fleisher to perform with the Cleveland Orchestra, which he took over later that year. By 1949, although he had played with many of the major American orchestras and had given recitals across the country, engagements began to dry up. Mr. Fleisher moved to Paris in 1950 and remained in Europe - relocating first to the Netherlands, then to Italy - until 1958. In 1952, he became the first American to win the gold medal at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. That victory included a substantial list of engagements in Europe; it also revived interest in Mr. Fleisher among American orchestras, managers and concert promoters. When Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra were signed to a new recording contract with the Epic label in 1954, Szell invited Mr. Fleisher to be his ‘go-to’ soloist for recordings of the great piano concertos.

Shortly after his return to the United States in the late 1950s, Mr. Fleisher accepted an offer to teach at the Peabody Conservatory, while also pursuing a hefty performing and recording schedule. ‘I was driven, if anything, even harder by all of my successes’, he wrote in his memoir. ‘There was always more to attain, and more to achieve, and more musical depths to plumb, and lurking behind it all, the terrifying risk of failure’. Failure was not far away. During the winter of 1963, he noticed what he described as laziness in his right index finger, as well as ‘a creeping numbness’ in his right hand. By the summer, the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand had begun to curl inward toward his palm. The timing was disastrous. Mr. Fleisher had planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his New York debut with a busy season that included 20 performances in New York alone and a spring 1964 tour of the Soviet Union, in which he was to be the soloist in Mozart’s Concerto #25 in C (K. 503) with Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Shortly before the tour, Mr. Fleisher performed the Mozart in Cleveland. Szell noted the strain Mr. Fleisher was under and told him that he did not feel he could undertake the tour. The pianist Grant Johannesen traveled with the orchestra instead.

‘The initial problem was a very stupid kind of overwork’, Mr. Fleisher said in 1996, cautioning young pianists against following his path. ‘I see kids still falling into this, and there are many reasons for it. The perfection that they’re bombarded with from recordings. The kind of sound a Horowitz produced, which is wonderful, but people don’t realize that he had his technician work very hard on the piano, so the piano itself helped. So when kids go to an acoustically dead hall, and get a dead piano, and try to make these Horowitz kinds of sounds, they end up brutalizing themselves’. Mr. Fleisher resisted taking up the left-hand repertoire, partly because he felt that to do so would be an admission that he would never regain the use of his right hand. But after two years without playing concerts, he reconsidered, agreeing to play both Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand and Benjamin Britten’s left-hand work ‘Diversions’ with Seiji Ozawa and the Toronto Symphony in 1967. The next year, with the pianist and composer Dina Koston, he started the Theater Chamber Players, a flexible chamber group meant to present both contemporary music and classics. The ensemble - initially based at the Washington Theater Club, later at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and ultimately at the Kennedy Center - provided an opportunity for Mr. Fleisher to both play and conduct. And an invitation to become music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in Maryland, a semiprofessional community group, gave him a chance to work on the symphonic repertoire. Soon, Mr. Fleisher was guest-conducting around the country - his debut at the head of a professional orchestra took place at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival in 1970 - and in 1973 he became associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He held that post for only five years, but he maintained a close relationship with the Orchestra thereafter. When the ensemble was preparing to inaugurate the new Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in 1982, its music director, Sergiu Comissiona, invited Mr. Fleisher to be the opening-night soloist. Having recently had an operation to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome, Mr. Fleisher began to regain the use of his right hand, if only partly and inconsistently. But he felt he could make the jump back to two-handed playing, with the televised opening of Meyerhoff Hall as the occasion for his comeback. In a bold moment, he told the orchestra that he would play Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. But as the occasion drew near, he decided to play Franck’s shorter and less pianistically exposed Symphonic Variations instead. Shortly after the Baltimore performance, Mr. Fleisher married Katherine Jacobson, a pianist who had been one of his students at Peabody.

In 1991, Mr. Fleisher found a doctor who was experimenting with Botox injections for injuries like his. At first he found that the injections loosened up his still-cramped fourth and fifth fingers, to the point where he could play. But the injections wore off, and Mr. Fleisher was still looking for a permanent cure. Having tried Rolfing in the 1970s, he decided to try again in 1994. This time he had better results, and he found that a regimen of Rolfing and Botox injections was enough to keep him in playing trim.

As an experiment, he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto #12 (K. 414) with the Theater Chamber Players in April 1995, and with the Cleveland Orchestra and at Tanglewood shortly thereafter. ‘Nothing felt sweeter’, he wrote in his memoir of those first performances, ‘than the feeling of those notes falling into place, the right hand singing, the left hand balancing it on the lower part of the keyboard, and the piece growing into something whole and complete, a dream become reality’. Mr. Fleisher gradually reclaimed the repertoire he had been unable to play for more than three decades - but cautiously, building his recital programs with both two-hand and left-hand works, and playing programs of piano four-hand works with his wife.

Toward the end of his life, Mr. Fleisher spoke about the level of despair he felt when he was unable to use his right hand. But, having regained that ability, he was also philosophical about the challenges life presents. ‘There are forces out there’, he told THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE in 2007, ‘and if you keep yourself open to them, if you go along with them, there are wondrous surprises’.”

- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 Aug., 2020

“Otto Klemperer, one of the century's great masters of the German musical repertory, in a life that spanned the waning days of 19th-century Romanticism and the most severe of 20th-century atonalities, had two distinct careers in music.

In his first career in Germany, before the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was one of the best-known and most vigorous interpreters of his generation, a gaunt giant of a man who presided over his orchestras like a soaring eagle. Then there came a period of exile, illness and severe mental strain.

In the middle 1950s, in the seventh decade of his life, he again began to make heralded appearances, being hailed as Arturo Toscanini's heir as the world's leading conductor of the German Romantics. Through a fierce effort of will, the old man, his aquiline face twisted into a mask, his massive stature bowed, had found a new place at the top. In his last years, Mr. Klemperer, at the head of his Philharmonia Orchestra, was known as a rock of integrity and moral authority in his conducting. His measured tempos and inspired literalness, his iron insistence on correct performance, brought new meanings to his readings of Beethoven, Mahler and others. Mr. Klemperer's conducting was marked by a strict observance of the text. He was never interested in obvious or flashy effects, and was always in complete command of the orchestra. He had a wonderful sense of orchestral balance, and tried with all his power to communicate the central essence of the music. His interpretations could be austere, but they were never dull. They had an uncompromising kind of musical honesty unparalleled in his generation.

He was regarded by the Nazis as a leading exponent of ‘culture-bolshevism’ because of his dedication to new music and contemporary staging techniques in the opera. In 1933, only a few years after he had received the Goethe Medal from President Hindenburg for his contributions to ‘the advancement of German culture’, he was discharged from his post at the State Opera in Berlin. Subsequently, all his property was confiscated and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The conductor's first appearance in New York was on 15 Jan., 1926, when he was guest conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra for two months. In his time here he introduced Mahler's Ninth Symphony and Leos Janacek's ‘Sinfonietta’. Mr. Klemperer's tenure at the Kroll Opera, which ended in 1931, was the high point of his career until then. Although he paid close attention to the classics, he lost no opportunity to perform the new work of composers like Stravinsky, Hindemith and Schönberg.

In 1939, Mr. Klemperer underwent an operation for a brain tumor, which left him partly paralyzed on his right side. His appearances in the months after were painful and unsuccessful. In 1941, after he left a mental sanitorium in Rye, N.Y., the police there sent out an alarm for him, describing him as ‘dangerous and insane’. Mr. Klemperer was found two days later in Morristown, N.J., and appeared composed. A doctor who examined him said he was ‘temperamental and unstrung’ but not dangerous, and he was released. The conductor's subsequent appearances were few and often involved minor musical organizations. In 1946, he left the United States for Budapest, where he was appointed musical director of the opera. With the help of recordings, his career again appeared on the ascendant, but in 1951, while arriving for an appearance in Montréal, he fell while getting off the plane and broke his hip. Until 1955, when he found he could stand again, his conducting was done from a wheel chair.

Mr. Klemperer was a world-famous conductor when he returned to the United States in 1934, an exile. He led orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and was director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for six years.

Mr. Klemperer's rebirth as a world-renowned artist came with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, which he led for 14 years and became conductor of for life. With the introduction of long-playing records, he came into great demand as a conductor, specializing in the German classics. The English public, and the critics, regarded him with reverence. In 1967, at a memorable performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the audience stood in silence as he made his way to the podium. The only other conductor it had stood for was Toscanini, when he made his last appearance in Britain after World War II. In his last days, Otto Klemperer on the podium was a sight that commanded awe, pity and terror. All but crippled, this massive man would slowly make his way to the front, seat himself, look at the orchestra with the permanent scowl that a brain operation had left him, and commence beating time with huge fists. As he looked, so he conducted. He was not a man to go in for frills, or for any kind of superficial effect. His tempi always tended to be slow, and toward the end they seemed to crawl. Yet such was his authority that he could hold the music together, and audiences responded with almost a kind of religious communion. Oblivious to everything but the shape of a phrase and the construction of a piece of music, Klemperer throughout his life represented the German school of musicmaking at its most monolithic and severe.

He was the last surviving representative of that school. It was, in his case, a school that in his youth was represented by Gustav Mahler, Karl Muck and Richard Strauss, and it extended through such conductors as Felix Weingartner, Leo Blech, Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler. All of these conductors represented a tradition that had its roots in the 19th century, a tradition of high seriousness tinged with a metaphysical approach towards music; a tradition of making music as honestly, as scrupulously, and as unostentatiously as possible.

The great Mahler himself was so impressed by the work of the young Klemperer that he recommended him as conductor of the German Theater in Prague in 1907. Klemperer followed the normal routine of young German conductors, advancing from opera house to opera house. Where he differed from many German conductors of the day was in his interest in contemporary music. Those who remember the recent Klemperer, the exponent of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler, forget that from 1927 to 1931 he made the Kroll Opera in Berlin a center of avant-garde activity. He introduced or revived major works by Schönberg, Janacek, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Krenek. In addition to his operatic duties, he conducted many concerts of symphonic music at which he also introduced major works of the 20th century. Later, he was content to specialize in the music of Bach through Mahler and Bruckner. Fortunately he has left a large series of recordings that attest to his monumental approach. Listening to his Beethoven and Brahms series, any music lover immediately finds himself in a rarefied world of sound. Few conductors have had an equivalent ability to bring out the sheer, unvarnished power of the music. Where Toscanini had that incredible linear drive and objectivity, where Furtwängler represented an opposite pole of tempo fluctuation, Klemperer was broad, direct and massive, yet possessed of a musical sensitivity that could illuminate detail as well as the whole.

Many stories are told about him. This tremendous man scared orchestral players. He expected a supreme effort from them, and he had the physical authority to exact instant obedience. Seldom did he pass out compliments. When he did, it was a red-letter day for the players. One story about him has him saying ‘Good!’ to a player who had turned an especially felicitous phrase. The orchestra, astounded, broke into applause. Klemperer never had complimented anybody previously. ‘It was not that good’, Klemperer then growled.”

- Paul L. Montgomery, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 1973