The rock that is Leonskaja was immediately apparent just glancing at the programme. Three great monuments:Beethoven op 109,Brahms op 116 and Schubert Sonata in D D.850. It was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a Master.
Much like Nikolaeva that I had heard by reputation and in fact invited her to my theatre in Italy many times knowing that my old teacher Guido Agosti had heard her in Moscow and invited her to play in Rome for the first time.
She too was a master musician just the same as now Elisabeth Leonskaja.
Such noble generous sound played with a simplicity and such unassuming stage presence. In fact she seemed quite embarrassed that she should be applauded. Were we not all here to share in the feast of music? Just as Richter did not want to be seen on stage as he considered himself as only a medium through which the music was revealed. Leonskaja her arms outstretched that allowed the music just to pour out. And what music!
Could the opening of op 116 ever have sounded so grand and passionate .
Enormous sonority on the piano but never a hard or percussive sound.
I have heard this same piano two or three times this week but this was a full orchestra as rarely heard.
The Brahms with a passion of someone seemingly discovering the piece for the first time. And so it continued each piece a revelation.
From the ghostly sounds of the fifth intermezzo in E minor to the subtle rubato of the sixth .
The Capriccio of the last of the Fantasies played with the same passion as of the first as if by someone possessed . Drawing the cycle to an astonishing end as it had begun.
Never have I been so totally mesmerised by these Fantasies by Brahms as in this performance with Leonskaja’s total identification pf this almost orchestral sound world. In her hands this evening she convinced me of what a masterpiece this work can be.
Beethoven op 109 played with a simplicity and nobility.
Always the sounds anchored to the bass which gave her an enormous but most natural dynamic range.
The seemingly inevitability of what was unfolding in her hands was totally absorbing resolving so many interpretative problems in such a simple and noble way.
The second movement ,Prestissimo,breaking the spell of the serene opening movement with an almost obsessive rhythmic propulsion that broke the spell of the opening and prepared the way for Beethoven’s sublime final movement of theme and variations.
In this last movement there was never less than a noble generous cantabile that led to the famous final long trill in which the theme was heard disintegrating before our very eyes . The final reinstatement of the theme played with such dignity and in an unsentimental way it reminded me of an inscription on a tomb stone in a centuries old churchyard in Devon:”A life’s work nobly done” …this for me summed up the performance of such total overwhelmingly moving simplicity.
The Schubert D major opened with a great Beethovenian flourish to finishing forty minutes later with the most simple music box like finale in which the final statement was like a melancholy nostalgic fragmented memory.
The total difference of sound in the last movement was in itself remarkable .
The sense of balance that allowed her to play this little theme in such a simple almost music box way was such a contrast to the preceding movements.
The different lines in the slow movement showed an extraordinary sense of orchestral colour with the right hand cantilena accompanying so poignantly the melodic line in the left.
A scherzo again adding such a violent contrast to the long drawn out slow movement.
A single encore from an ecstatic full house elicited a full blooded performance of the famous Sonneto del Petrarca by Liszt .Full of wildly different colours but played with a nobility and directness that had been the hallmark of this great artist’s recital ..