The impresario Johann Peter Salomon is thought to be behind the naming of Mozart's final symphony the 'Jupiter'. These days it is concerts, rather than individual works, that impresarios give names to. Sometimes these names are banal beyond measure; sometimes they pique one's curiosity. 'Titans of the keyboard' could be either, but in this case it was definitely one of the latter.
If Leon Fleischer isn't on your musical radar, that would be understandable. He made a considerable impression in the early part of his career as a pianist, though in that pre-internet age his reputation was to an extent confined to the USA. Sadly, that career was cut short in the mid-1960s by a neurological condition that cost him the use of two fingers on his right hand. Fleischer redirected his passion towards a career in conducting and pedagogy, having coached a healthy number of fine pianists in that time, such as André Watts, Hélène Grimaud, Louis Lortie, and—recently heard in Edinburgh—Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss. (Nicholas Angelich, of course, is another of his distinguished former students.)
Happily, in recent years, medical science has found a solution to the condition, and Fleischer plays once more—but it was Fleischer the conductor on display in this concert. And in the Coriolan overture it was immediately apparent that he was going to put the accent on achieving a sumptuous sound, in which he certainly succeeded. All the same, whether it was over-reverence for the composer or just a matter of taste, the result was opulent but somnolent; not too slow, but held up by overlong general pauses that sapped the dramatic flow.
Speaking of titans and suchlike prompts the thought that no one would mind terribly much if Beethoven's second piano concerto were to be downgraded in the way that Pluto lost its status as a planet. Although it is plainly the work of a talented composer, its essential character is somewhat elusive as one might expect, knowing that Beethoven was about 15 when he began working on it. Still, it received a polished performance, and although Angelich's pedal-work was a bit excessive, there were plenty of attractive lighter touches to compensate.
Strangely, there was a long pause after the interval; the stage crew hadn't removed the piano. Something was up. Eventually, Fleischer and Angelich emerged to perform what was in effect a belated encore, a pleasantly modulated reading of one of Dvorak's Slavonic dances. It gave a nice warm touch to the evening.
It was a stroke of good fortune to hear the Jupiter symphony again just six months since the last time the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performed it. Interesting, too, to compare the different approaches of two conductors who share an appetite for a polished, lustrous sound. Where Gaffigan's interpretation was full of curiosity and adventure, Fleischer's was stately; perhaps one might say deferential. Not slow, and it would be too harsh to describe it as flat, but there was a sense of constraint, as though this was the price to be paid for the meticulously crafted balances of texture. Nevertheless, the overall shape was well made and the irrepressibly brilliant finale soared to its rousing climax with powerful force.
Concert review: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Mozart
Concert review: The SCO with Karen Cargill in Schumann, Gluck, and Berlioz
Concert review: Jonathan Biss at the Edinburgh Festival
Concert Review: Roger Norrington with the RSNO in Schumann