Leon Fleisher, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

The legendary 80-year-old pianist Leon Fleisher has had at least three careers. The first was famously cut short by a neurological disorder that took two fingers of his right hand out of commission. Classic recordings kept the memories alive, but for nearly 40 years he focused on repertoire for the left hand – until, that is, medical science caught up and he was a two-handed pianist once more.

Interesting, then, that in this eagerly awaited solo recital, he ended an all-Bach first half with Brahms's arrangement of the Chaconne in D minor for the left hand. The reasons were entirely musical: Fleisher dug his way into the lower octaves like an excavator unearthing a precious discovery. He found it in the revelatory switch to D major of the middle section.

Bach was a shrewd choice for this recital – it's music that heals. Fleisher could feel his way into "Sheep may safely graze", its circumspection leavened by an inner calm. Tentative trills and smudged grace notes became less of an issue in the six pieces of the Capriccio in B-flat because what we've always got from this pianist is great inner strength.

Both here and in Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, a rhetorical hesitancy intensified the music's starkness. Hunched over the keyboard like a wily old American eagle, Fleisher scorned the difficulties and stumbled with authority. Weathered hands, weathered sounds.

A second half of Debussy, Albeniz and Chopin demanded sharper senses and lighter fingers. His Debussy was heavy and opaque; his Albeniz refused to dance; his Chopin was lugubrious and messy. But in a strange way, Fleisher is playing for himself now. We're just along for the ride – and old times' sake.

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