The maestro's recording of Liszt 6 Paganini Grand Etudes was one of the best, if not the best ever made. Here is the latest news to share with his fans on this board:
Gary Graffman's Dazzling Dexterity
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2004; Page C05
The pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm fighting for the Austrian army in World War I. By all indications, that should have been the end of his performing career. But the Wittgensteins were an unusual family (brother Ludwig became one of the 20th century's most significant philosophers) and Paul had both the determination and the means to continue on his chosen path. And so he commissioned music from more than a dozen leading composers -- of whom Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten and Franz Schmidt are perhaps the most notable -- and brought into existence an entire mini-repertory of piano works for the left hand alone.
On Thursday night in Meyerhoff Hall, Gary Graffman -- a celebrated American pianist who lost the use of his right hand at the peak of his career -- played one of the best of the works fashioned for Wittgenstein, Serge Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 in B-flat, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Yuri Temirkanov. Like his contemporary Leon Fleisher, Graffman lost the use of his right hand to dystonia at the peak of his career; unlike Fleisher, he has, to date, never recovered full use of both hands.
It was in all ways an admirable performance: Graffman plays with dazzling accuracy, his hand bouncing over the keyboard with the spring and velocity of a SuperBall. The Baltimore musicians responded reflexively to Temirkanov's intricately nuanced direction, playing with what seemed a contented, and effortlessly songful, unity.
The piece itself is a beaut. If Domenico Scarlatti had lived in the mid-20th century, he might have written something like the opening Vivace -- all light, energy and clarity, rich melodic substance embedded among the exuberant filigree. The second movement, marked Andante, was played tenderly, caressingly, in what might be described as a pianistic "half-voice" so quiet that one leaned forward in one's seat to make out all of Graffman's subtleties. The third movement is a disappointment -- a crude, thudding show of muscle in Prokofiev's most vulgar manner -- but the finale restores the mood of the opening, with a renewed freshness and immaculate concision.
Graffman's recording of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, recorded in the 1960s with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, has always been my version of choice, brilliantly combining motoric ferocity with ecstatic tenderness, the composer's favorite moods. More so, perhaps, than any American pianist of his generation (Glenn Gould was, after all, Canadian) Graffman has his own inimitable sound, hard and pure, and there could be no mistaking his work on Thursday, even in his diminished condition.
The evening closed with Serge Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, a bloated and massively overlong collection of ripe, lubricious tunes that shows distressing signs of becoming a warhorse.
The program will be repeated tonight and tomorrow afternoon. For information, call 410-783-8000.