The central work is Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for violin, arranged as a left-hand piano exercise by Brahms. In a letter to Clara Schumann, Brahms told of his love for the Chaconne—“a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings”—and said that he enjoyed struggling in solitude to execute it with one hand, because “one does not always want to hear music actually played.” The miracle of Fleisher’s account is that, while he performs with astonishing dexterity, he retains that atmosphere of exploration, as if no one were listening. The most wrenching passage in the Chaconne comes toward the end, when, after an upward-striving, light-seeking section in D major, there is a shuddering collapse back into the minor. Here, as sonorous, multi-register figuration gives way to spare, confined lines, you may remember what you might have forgotten, that the pianist is using one hand, and that the impairment of the other has caused him much sorrow.
Alex Ross covers Leon Fleisher’s latest record in his New Yorker column this week.
Fleisher has struggled for years with focal dystonia that impairs playing with his right hand.