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Two Hands

Two Hands

by Leon Fleisher
Marking a comeback that's a Hollywood scriptwriter's dream, Two Hands is pianist Leon Fleisher's first recording since the 1960s of two-hand repertoire. One of the most brilliant pianists of his generation, Fleisher suffered a disastrous loss of control in his right hand from the neurological disease focal dystonia, forcing to him


Marking a comeback that's a Hollywood scriptwriter's dream, Two Hands is pianist Leon Fleisher's first recording since the 1960s of two-hand repertoire. One of the most brilliant pianists of his generation, Fleisher suffered a disastrous loss of control in his right hand from the neurological disease focal dystonia, forcing to him to abandon a flourishing performing career nearly 40 years ago, and for decades, he could only play works written for the left hand alone. A student of the legendary Artur Schnabel who can trace his pianistic lineage back to Beethoven, Fleisher came to the fore after winning the Queen Elizabeth Competition of Belgium in 1952 -- the first American to do so -- and he made several highly regarded recordings in the '50s and early '60s, including near-definitive accounts of the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. After misfortune struck, however, he refocused his musical energies on teaching, in which he also excelled, earning from his students the pet name "Obi-Wan Kenobi of the piano." Now a wrinkled 75, he remains an éminence grise of classical music, but through treatments that began in the '80s, he has regained function in his wayward limb and has made a long-delayed return to two-hand performance. A triumphant Carnegie Hall recital in late 2003 proclaimed the extent of his comeback, and this beautiful recording is its confirmation. Fleisher begins with transcriptions of familiar Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Sheep May Safely Graze," pieces he learned in youth under Schnabel's guidance. The choices are a poignant, decades-spanning gesture, and they also give Fleisher's greatest gifts -- singing melody, subtle coloring, and translucent voicing -- room to shine. Short works by Scarlatti, Chopin, and Debussy (the famous "Claire de lune") follow, none of which is particularly virtuosic, either, but each gains from Fleisher's knack for finding poetry in simplicity, while scrupulously avoiding sentimentality and overstatement. Schubert's great swan-song sonata in B-flat Major is both the culmination and the heart of the program. Here Fleisher lets loose a lifetime of reflection on this masterpiece in a supremely lyrical performance. Not to be missed.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Leonard
Two Hands The title says it all. After 35 years of suffering from dystonia, a crippling neurological order that affected his right hand, pianist Leon Fleisher has received treatments that have allowed him to return to performing two-hand repertoire. Not all two-hand repertoire, mind you: the daredevil virtuoso repertoire of Fleisher's early Columbia recordings is still out of his reach. But now, finally, Fleisher is able to play easier two-hand repertoire: choral preludes by Bach, a sonata by Scarlatti, a mazurka and a nocturne by Chopin, a piece de occasion by Debussy, and, wonder of wonders, Schubert's last piano sonata. But while it is difficult to disentangle one's appreciation of his titanic struggle and one's admiration for his indomitable will when listening to his performances, the sheer strength and sensitivity of Fleisher's performances make one disregard his story and sit back and listen to his magnificent performances. And they are magnificent performances. His Bach choral preludes have the simplicity and the sanctity of hymns. His Scarlatti "Sonata" has the effervescence and the evanescence of sunlight on leaves. His Chopin dances darkly on moonlight waters and his Debussy is luminous moonlight itself. And Fleisher's Schubert "Sonata" is a heartfelt farewell to life made all the more moving by the depth of the love and the degree of acceptance Fleisher expresses in his playing. While there are other performances of these pieces one should hear, especially Lipatti's of the Bach and Richter's of the Schubert, anyone who loves great piano playing will love this disc. Vanguard's sound is intimate yet reverberant.
New York Times - Anthony Tommasini
Though I expected the disc to be rewarding, I was not prepared for the serene greatness of [Fleisher's] playing. The program begins with miraculously fresh accounts of two repertory staples: Myra Hess's arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and Egon Petri's arrangement of Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze." In booklet notes, Mr. Fleisher calls them "mantra music," which, he hopes, will get listeners into a tranquil zone of receptivity. It works. He shapes phrases with utter naturalness and highlights individual voices with no sense of didactic pinpointing. Scarlatti's gentle Sonata in E (K. 380), two soulful works by Chopin and Debussy's "Clair de Lune" receive beautifully nuanced performances. The program concludes with a magisterial yet startlingly imaginative performance of Schubert's B flat Sonata, his last.
Gramophone - Nalen Anthoni
This verges on the unbelievable.
Washington Post - Tim Page
A magnificent album.... Fleisher has described his return to playing with two hands as "a state of grace." "It's a state of ecstasy," he said. "It's wonderful." The same words apply to this album.
Boston Globe - Richard Dyer
Fleisher's serene playing of ‘Sheep May Safely Graze,’ his complex realization of Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat (Op. 27, No. 3), and the profound simplicity of the Schubert sonata (complete with first-movement exposition repeat) rank among Fleisher's finest recorded achievements, which can stand alongside anybody's.
The New Yorker - Russell Platt
No American pianist can equal [Fleisher's] combination of supple phrasing, intellectual mastery, and interpretive depth.
Philadelphia Inquirer - David Patrick Stearns
Scarlatti's Sonata in E major (K. 380) unfolds with playful, unlabored fluidity. However, it's in Chopin's Mazurka in C-sharp minor (Op. 50, No. 3) and the aforementioned nocturne that one hears the maturity that Fleisher's early recordings promised, with lifetimes of expression explored within a stylish, miniature frame.
Pittsburgh Tribune - Mark Kanny
Fleisher's first two-hand recital album in 40 years...is cause for rejoicing. Three baroque selections -- "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "Sheep May Safely Graze" and Domenico Scarlatti's well-known Sonata in E major -- are presented with the exquisite weighting of musical line that has always distinguished his playing. He brings out the compositional richness of Frederic Chopin's Mazurka in C sharp minor and Nocturne in D flat major in ways that elude most pianists.
Baltimore Sun - Tim Smith
The first notes of Bach's familiar `Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring’ emerge from the opening track of Leon Fleisher's new CD like the soft, reassuring light of dawn, and the warmth continues to spread for about 75 minutes' worth of exceptional music-making. Call it historic, too.
San Jose Mercury News - Richard Scheinin
A deep sense of calm runs through Leon Fleisher's new recording. There's nothing flashy going on: It's as if the pianist is playing for himself in a room somewhere, quietly relishing the experience of making music. Which is very likely the case.... A profound musician, he sculpts each phrase and makes us listen.

Product Details

Release Date:
Indieblue Music


  1. Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147 (BC A174): Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring  - Johann Sebastian Bach  - Lisa Altman
  2. Cantata No. 208, "Was mir behagt," (Hunt Cantata), BWV 208 (BC G1, G3): Sheep May Safely Graze  - Johann Sebastian Bach  - Lisa Altman
  3. Sonata for keyboard in E major, K. 380 (L. 23) "Cortège"  - Domenico Scarlatti  - Lisa Altman
  4. Mazurka for piano No. 32 in C sharp minor, Op. 50/3, CT. 82  - Frédéric Chopin  - Lisa Altman
  5. Nocturne for piano No. 8 in D flat major, Op. 27/2, CT. 115  - Frédéric Chopin  - Lisa Altman
  6. Clair de lune, for piano (Suite Bergamasque No. 3), L. 75/3  - Claude Debussy  - Lisa Altman
  7. Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D. 960  - Franz Schubert  - Lisa Altman

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