In a jubilant celebration honoring the extraordinary life and achievements of one of the finest pianists of the past century, Leon Fleisher and friends offered a rousing all-Mozart program Wednesday night at Chenery Auditorium as a grand highlight of this year’s Gilmore Festival.
A long-time friend of the festival, Fleisher played the first Gilmore in 1991, and this is his fourth return. Though 90, and continually working against the focal dystonia that crippled his right hand at the height of his career as a concert pianist in the mid 1960s, Fleisher’s elegant mastery of Mozart’s Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414 is unparalleled. Though his physical energy is somewhat diminished, the emotional and spiritual lucidity of his playing was dynamite. And to be in the presence of his performance was nothing less than a gift.
Accompanied by the flawless Gilmore Festival Chamber Orchestra, a select group of musicians drawn from both the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestras, magnificently conducted by Marcelo Lehninger, Fleisher’s phrasing and timing were impeccable. At times very playful and jubilant, his improvisational flourishes were brief yet sparkling, and the orchestra supported and moved with him as if they were one.
Lehninger and the orchestra opened the concert with the lively and recognizable Overture from The Marriage of Figaro, and a slightly smaller orchestra closed with a gorgeous rendition of Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 that was billowing and sharp, happy and light, with a fast, dynamic final movement and a tremendous finish.
In the middle of the program, two of Fleisher’s prominent students, Alon Goldstein and Yury Shadrin, took the stage to play Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365. They played as if in conversation and in response to one another, echoing bright, short phrases and building to crescendo together with breaks for the orchestra that complemented, supported, and enlarged their harmonious and delightful playing.
Before they began, Goldstein said being Fleisher’s student allowed him to come closer to understanding the meaning and the mystery of music. And wordlessly communicating that meaning, that mystery — that incomparable legacy — is exactly what this glorious concert achieved.