On the face of it, Leon Fleisher's piano recital Saturday night in the Terrace Theater was a case of a man with something to prove. The evening, a benefit for the Kennedy Center's Theater Chamber Players, was given over entirely to solo and chamber works for piano left hand and was Fleisher's first extensive solo performance in Washington in 25 years, since losing his ability to play with his right hand in 1965 because of muscular problems.
Very quickly, however, it was clear that this concert was far more than a chance to make a case for the left hand repertory or to reacquaint audiences here with Fleisher. It was, rather, the return of a master musician, whose commanding tone, powerful technique and intelligent musicality place him in the first rank of pianists.
Fleisher's strength musically comes, in part, from what he leaves out. Whether playing a set of intricate Bach variations or a boisterous Leopold Godowsky waltz paraphrase, Fleisher takes you plainly to the heart of the music. This resolute directness was also in evidence in the Toccata and Fugue by Jeno Takas, Robert Saxton's Chacony and works by Scriabin, Felix Blumenfeld and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Every detail in these pieces was distinct, and the overall effect was one of musical candor and vibrance.
Violinists Naoko Tanaka and Hyo Kang and cellist Evelyn Elsing gave strong performances in the Korngold.