This evening’s much ado about Mozart is also much about the program and the players. The main player in question is octogenarian Leon Fleisher. At 15, he was “the pianistic find of the century,” but his brilliant career as an interpreter of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart was interrupted by a disabled right hand. For nearly forty years Fleisher focused on teaching, conducting and playing the left-handed repertoire, until very recent advances in therapy restored his right hand.
In 2009 Fleisher recorded Mozart: Piano Concertos no 12, 7 & 23 (his first in over forty years). Two of those recorded concerto’s make up this evening’s piano program, one of them, No. 7, a six-hander which includes Katherine Fleisher and Stewart Goodyear. One of the TSO’s innovations is that Goodyear, a former student of Fleisher’s who has emerged as an eminent pianist, played the exquisite Piano Concerto No. 23 . The other innovation is to have Fleisher conduct Mozart’s first symphony and his last, the No. 41 known as “Jupiter.” This program represents the lifetime triumph of both the composer and the player.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, K. 16 is a bit like what Tom Allen introduced some years ago at a music festival with the line, “Imagine listening to a concerto written by a kid in grade three.” Premiered in London when Mozart was 9, its appealing themes still give off 11 minutes of sunny freshness, as well as a hint of deeper feeling in the slow second movement. It also has undeveloped precursors of the tonal colours and sense of musical drama we immediately identify as Mozart. The ability to underscore the inherent drama of Mozart is a well-known characteristic of Fleisher’s playing that comes out here even in his conducting.
Mozart composed his Piano Concerto No. 23, K. 488 in the same year as his comic masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro. As Goodyear plays and Fleisher conducts you can hear the soloist, the orchestral sections, and principals singing together as if it they were characters in an operatic dialogue. The lively first movement creates a mood of elegant contentment. Goodyear’s fluency and sense of architecture in the melancholy Italian folk dance that serves as the theme of the second movement evokes an unearthly beauty. The dialogue of piano and horn towards the end of the movement is impossibly touching.
Fleisher and his wife Katherine Jacobson Fleisher join Stewart Goodyear for the Concerto in F Major for Three Pianos and Orchestra, K. 242. Throughout, the orchestra is often silent while the three pianos form a single mass, playing the same notes, though more often they accompany each other. There is much use of dialogue as well as imitation and echo effects, especially between the first and second parts which Fleisher leaves to his wife and Goodyear, while he conducts from the bench. The overall effect is consistently pleasant.
Symphony No. 41, K. 551 “Jupiter” belongs to the period of Cosi fan tutti and Don Giovanni. The first movement swells with the pomp and stateliness of dotted rhythms made prominent by trumpet and timpani. The second movement, Andante Cantabile, transports you into an idyllic serenity. The graceful Menuetto had heads and hands of many audience members keeping time. The Finale with its five themes which are given five fugal expositions is a truly operatic conclusion to a musical hallmark of universal nobility.