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The Boston Globe


Music Review

When one hand at piano is asked to speak for two

LENOX — Few 20th-century pianists left a more palpable mark on the modern piano repertoire than Paul Wittgenstein, who, even after losing his right arm as an Austrian soldier in World War I, chose to continue performing. He did so by commissioning many of the great composers of the day — including Strauss, Britten, and Prokofiev — to create works for the left hand alone, and the results still echo in concert halls down to this day.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is the most widely played of the Wittgenstein commissions, and it became a particularly important piece for the pianist Leon Fleisher after a battle with focal dystonia made it impossible for him to perform with his right hand. In recent years, advances in treatment of this particular condition — specifically, Botox injections — have returned Fleisher’s right hand to service but it is, alas, a limited return. As he approaches his 85th birthday, left-hand works such as the Ravel still loom large in his repertoire.

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