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Published: Saturday, 9/30/2006

Concert of classics soars on hands of solo pianist

The opening concert of the Toledo Symphony's Classics series last night was an evening for the Phoenix - that mythical bird of rebirth.

Not only was the featured soloist, pianist Leon Fleisher, able to use both hands for his performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12, but the symphony and Stefan Sanderling rose to the challenge of one of the most taxing 20th Century orchestral works: Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7.

Given the name "Leningrad" by the composer, this 75-minute symphony, Op. 60, is both highly programmatic and musically demanding. As the name implies, it celebrates Russia's triumph over Nazi aggression in the composer's hometown, Leningrad, during WW II.

Impressive tonal coloring and a full range of dynamic markings - from the pianissimo flutter of brushes on snare drums and bounce of bows on strings to the blazing all out finale - promise a rich experience for any listener. Maestro Sanderling and the expanded orchestra fully realized and honored Shostakovich's musical vision.

Melodies were spun eloquently by solo flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, and bassoon throughout the four movements, floating above solid string chords or being swallowed up by brass pronouncements. Sanderling, without tending toward podium dramatics, nonetheless managed the progress of the work from start to finish, shaping a powerful symphonic arc notable for balance, elegant playing, and all the musical variety one could hope for on a Friday evening in Toledo.

Opening the program - after, of course, the National Anthem - Fleisher performed this lesser known concerto, Mozart's K. 414, with elan and apparent pleasure. Using a score, he nonetheless conveyed total familiarity and comfort with the sprightly melodies.

Of particular distinction was his meditative path through the sweet andante second movement. The final movement was truly delightful, a musical game played with the orchestra - strings and six winds - presided over most genially by Sanderling.

This concerto was Fleisher's first foray into the two-handed piano world in 1994, after decades of disability that rendered his right hand unusable at the keyboard. Afterward, as friends and family milled about, the kindly artist signed copies of the first CD he has produced since regaining use of his right hand.

The concert will repeat tonight at 8 p.m. in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

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