BACH-BRAHMS: Chaconne. KIRCHNER: L. H. GERSHWIN-WILD: The Man I Love. PERLE: Musical Offering. MOMPOU: Prelude No. 6. KOSTON: Thoughts of Evelyn. KERN-PRUTSMAN: All the Things You Are.
Leon Fleisher, piano BRIDGE CD 9429 TT: 57:27

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23. CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Ingolf Wunder, piano; St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch/Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.
DECCA 4790670 TT: 72:40

RZEWSKI: Variations (36) on "The People United Will never be Defeated."
Omri Shimron, piano
NEW FOCUS CD 134 TT: 61:26


RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano/London Symphony Orch/Philharmonia Orch (Rhapsody)/André Previn, cond.
DECCA 478 6443 (2 CDS, 1 BLU-RAY audio disk)

Leon Fleisher continues to be a major force on today's music scene, both as a performer and teacher. His early recordings of concertos of Beethoven and Brahms with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra remain a standard by which others are judged. Collectors are fortunate that recently these were reissued in a 5 disk set at budget price—essential for music lovers. Fleisher's latest disk is fascinating, music for left hand recorded August 20-22, 2013 in Gould Rehearsal Hall of the Curtis Institute. The program opens with the famous Bach Chaconne as arranged for left hand piano by Brahms which is, indeed, as the program notes say, "a cathedral made of tones." Leon Kirchner composed L.H. in 1995 for Fleisher, and George Perle wrote Musical Offering for Left Hand in 1998 to celebrate the pianist's 70th birthday. The 7-minute Thoughts of Evelyn has a special meaning for Fleisher as it was written by Dina Koston (for two hands). She years ago suggested conducting to Fleisher, and organized Theater Chamber Players. Earl Wild's arrangement of Gershwin's The Man I Love is played in the version for left hand. Stephen Prutsman made his arrangement of Kern's All the Things You Are specifically for Fleisher. Needless to say, performances are masterful, and Fleisher's warm sound has been beautifully captured by the engineers. Comprehensive program notes are another plus. This is a first-class issue in every way.

Austrian-born Ingolf Wunder (1986) is among the latest group of amazing young virtuosos. He won second prize and other awards at the 2010 International Piano Competition in Warsaw. He concertizes extensively, and here we have his performances of the first concertos of Tchaikovsky and Chopin, supposedly recorded live at the White Nights Festival in June 2012, with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Were they actually recorded in concert? No trace whatever of audience sounds, and no applause. At any rate, these are brilliant performances, with Ashkenazy on the podium (he won second prize in the 1955 Warsaw competition), and you'll hear some orchestral details usually unnoticed. Excellent audio. Wunder has signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca; doubtless we'll hear much more from him.

American composer Frederic Rzewski (b. Massachusetts April 13, 1938) studied early in his career with Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Randall Thompson and Milton Babbitt as well as Luigi Dallapiccola in Italy. He was highly respected in academic circles and recognized as a virtuoso pianist. Much of his music is of an improvisatory nature, and one of his masterpieces is his set of 36 variations on the Sergio Ortega song El Pueblo unido jamás será venciodo, "The People United Will Never be Defeated." He intended this to be a companion piece to a performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. This demanding score as attracted some major pianists including Marc-André Hamlin and Ursula Oppens who have recorded it. There also is a video of he composer's performance. This site mentioned a fine recording by Ralph van Raal on Naxos (REVIEW). Omri Shimron presents a commanding performance on this new disk, but it faces stiff competition from the other recordings mentioned early f which have substantial fillers. Odd this new recording does not.

Vladimir Ashkenazy's first recordings of Rachmaninoff's concerted works were made in London 1970-1971, towards the beginning of the pianist's career before his international career as a conductor began. Since that time he has led many major orchestras while continuing his solo career. He specialized in Rachmaninoff and recorded all of the major orchestral works conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as well as all of the music for solo piano. His second complete set of the concertos was made in the mid-80's with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw (the Philharmonia is heard in the Rhapsody), and he also made a few recordings of concertos with other conductors —a Racmaninoff specialist indeed. This is a deluxe presentation of recordings always in the catalog, but here they have been remastered and an extra blu-ray disk offers the complete set in high fidelity pure audio, 96kHzm 24-bit audio. These famous recordings sound better than ever in this attractive set. In a way, it is surprising Decca chose to issue the earlier recordings instead of the Haitink collaborations.

R.E.B. (August 2014)