HAD THERE NOT BEEN a lengthy interruption in his career, pianist Leon Fleisher undoubtedly would have filled out his catalogue of recordings with an impressive sweep of works old and new. His performing career began in the 1940s, when he was in his teens, and his recording career began in 1954 on Columbia’s subsidiary label Epic. Although his early solo-piano recordings ranged from Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat, D. 960, to Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Handel, he really hit the ground running when collaborating with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Their 1958 recording of Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 remains for me the finest performance of this piece, and – perhaps because it was so early in the stereo era – the articulation of the orchestra reveals details you won’t hear anywhere else. This was a benchmark work for Fleisher, who already had performed it with Szell, but they went on to capture the same magic when they laid down Brahms’s Concerto No. 2 in 1962.
Between those events came all five of Beethoven’s concertos, with Mozart’s Concerto No. 25 and the warhorses by Grieg and Schumann as well. The Fleisher-Szell catalogue also includes a mono recording of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on Theme of Paganini” and Franck’s “Symphonic Variations.”