We all heard, and still remember, his early recordings. Nobody played the Brahms D-minor Concerto more mightily or expressively, nor with more persuasive understanding of the music. I first heard him live at Tanglewood in summer 1959 or 1960, playing the Beethoven Third Concerto. Two years later he played in Princeton and I was drafted to turn pages when he played Leon Kirchner’s Sonata. Backstage I mentioned that I had heard him playing the Beethoven at Tanglewood a couple of years before, and he groaned, as if remembering that he hadn’t played so well then, and maybe that was true. “You’re not going to hear me play so well tonight, either,” he said. But he was wrong; if he was tired, it never showed. The Kirchner Sonata came forth with total strength and conviction, as did Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, a superb performance. As a page-turner I had a vivid sense of what Schoenberg had once said to Berg: “If you ever have the opportunity to see the way Mahler ties his necktie, you can learn more counterpoint from this than in two years at the conservatory.”
It was only a few years later that Fleisher’s career became cruelly vitiated by the dystonia that crippled his right hand, again as we all know. But we also know how well he carried on, bringing new energy and interest to the Paul Wittgenstein lefthand repertory, and making LH recordings. Eventually a good part of his RH capability returned; I remember reading about a performance of Franck’s Variations symphoniques that marked his return to the two-handed stage. My last view of him was at George Perle’s memorial in 2009, when he played Bach’s Chaconne in Brahms’s lefthand arrangement.