Fleisher, Frost Symphony open Festival Miami with commanding performances

By Lawrence Budmen

Leon Fleisher conducted the Frost Symphony Orchestra to open Festival Miami Thursday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Festival Miami, the University of Miami Frost School of Music’s annual showcase, opened Thursday night with a Beethoven- Rachmaninoff program featuring one of the music world’s senior statesmen, Leon Fleisher.

A pupil of the legendary pianist Artur Schnabel and  competition winner, Fleisher forged a major career in the 1950’s and 60’s, specializing in the keyboard works of Beethoven and Brahms. When a neurological problem rendered two fingers of his right hand immobile, Fleisher turned his attention to the left-hand piano repertoire and conducting. In the past decade, Botox treatments have restored mobility to Fleisher’s hand and he has returned to performing a modest schedule of two-hand concerto and recital appearances.

From the moment he took the stage at Gusman Concert Hall, Fleisher exuded authority on the podium. The crisp, sharp attack on the opening chords of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture set the tone for a propulsive reading that emphasized the score’s tragic gravitas, Fleisher never allowing the pulse to flag. In a fine effort by the continually improving student players of the Frost Symphony Orchestra, the cellos’ bronze toned, spaciously shaped playing of Beethoven’s noble secondary theme was a standout.

Anastasiya Naplekova

Anastasiya Naplekova, a UM doctoral student currently studying with  Santiago Rodriguez, exhibited considerable poise and assurance in assaying Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, once one of Fleisher’s showpieces. She proved more than up to the challenge, delivering a technically fluent and strongly personal performance.

Naplekova’s digital dexterity surmounted Beethoven’s pianistic hurdles with aplomb. Her light touch and softly pointed phrasing brought a dreamy, almost Chopinesque aura to the score, particularly effective in the piano’s serene response to the fierce orchestral interjections of the Adagio. When she reached the large-scale cadenza of the first movement, Naplekova cut loose, unleashing powerful pianistic thunder strokes. A touch of judicious rubato added verve to a rollicking Allegro vivace finale. Fleisher offered attentive support, the orchestral line emerging with granite-like strength and power.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 is a sprawling work, a compendium of Tchaikovsky’s melodic fluency and Mahlerian angst. Fleisher reveled in the score’s romantic sweep. His taut, headlong thrust maintained momentum throughout the work’s nearly hour-long duration, even in the diffuse finale. The scherzo generated sparks under Fleisher’s brisk pace and he took the full measure of the Adagio’s melodic richness. Outstanding solo work by the clarinet, flute and violin first chairs highlighted a charged orchestral performance. Even the brass section, usually problematic in student ensembles, brought strength and solidity to the score’s climactic salvos.

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Fri Oct 5, 2012
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