The Tokyo String Quartet is a strong enough draw on its own, but the additional presence of veteran pianist Leon Fleisher guaranteed a large turnout to Sunday's season finale of the Shriver Hall Concert Series. Extra seats were added onstage.
The program underwent a change due to the slow recovery from right-hand thumb surgery Fleisher has been experiencing since last year.
Out went the hefty Brahms F minor Piano Quintet; in came a chamber version of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 (with the participation of Baltimore Symphony principal bassist Robert Barney).
Offering an "explication" to the audience before the performance, the ever-droll Fleisher said that his surgeon told him ...
the thumb "was not quite ready for professional use. I hesitate to follow that train of thought," the pianist added, playing on similar remarks he made at a New York concert last December.
Fleisher, who famously resumed a limited amount of two-hand playing in the 1990s after new treatment for the longtime focal dystonia in his right, was not in pristine form for the Mozart work. But, like Horowitz, the pianist has earned the right to make mistakes. The smudges did not detract from the overall, elegant authority of the phrasing, especially in the second movement. Except for a premature entrance, the string players did cohesive work and spun eloquent phrases.
On its own, the Tokyo ensemble demonstrated exceptional technical refinement, interpretive richness and a glowing tone in Haydn's witty, brilliantly crafted Op. 77, No. 2, as well as in Szymanowski's sumptuous, atmospheric Op. 37.
The program also had room for Toru Takemitsu's darkly beautiful "A Way A Lone," delivered with considerable intensity of expression. In this context -- the concert was dedicated to the victims of the tsunami in Japan -- surges of dissonance couldn't help but suggest nature's wrath.
(Just a reminder to folks who prepare program notes: Attribution to other sources is still a good and proper idea. The Shriver Hall audience was given notes to the Takemitsu piece that included liberal, uncredited borrowing from an analysis readily found on the Web.)
PHOTO (by Christian Ducasse) COURTESY OF TOKYOQUARTET.COM