Alexis Weissenberg, Bulgarian-born French pianist, died he was 82
Early life and career
Born into a Jewish family in Bulgaria, Sofia, Weissenberg began taking piano lessons at the age of three from Pancho Vladigerov, a Bulgarian composer. He gave his first public performance at the age of eight.
In 1941, he and his mother tried to escape from German-occupied Bulgaria for Turkey,
but they were caught and imprisoned in a makeshift concentration camp
in Bulgaria for three months. One day, a German guard – who had enjoyed
hearing Alexis play Schubert on the accordion – hurriedly took him and
his mother to the train station, throwing the accordion to him through
the window. The guard told them, “Good luck,” and the next day, they
safely arrived in Istanbul.
In 1945, they emigrated to Palestine, where he studied under Leo Kestenberg and performed Beethoven with the Israel Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. In 1946, Weissenberg went to the Juilliard School to study with Olga Samaroff. He also consulted Artur Schnabel and Wanda Landowska.
In 1947 he made his New York debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of George Szell playing Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 3. Between 1957 and 1966 he took an extended sabbatical for the purpose of studying and teaching.
Weissenberg resumed his career in 1966 by giving a recital in Paris; later that year he played Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Berlin conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who praised him as “one of the best pianists of our time”.
Bryce Morrison, in “Gramophone”, described his early 1970s recording of the Liszt Sonata in B minor as one of the most exciting and also lyrical renditions of the work. His readings of Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and many works by Frédéric Chopin (including his complete works for piano and orchestra, Piano Sonatas No. 2 & 3, nocturnes, and waltzes) are also very well known.
Among his other notable interpretations were those of Johannes Brahms‘s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Carlo Maria Giulini and Riccardo Muti, (“Les Introuvables d’Alexis Weissenberg”, 2004), Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as his Piano Concerto No. 3 with Georges Prêtre and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (also with Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France).
His film recording of Stravinsky‘s Three Movements from Petrushka
was also highly praised (January 1965, directed by Åke Falck). In fact,
this movie is amongst the most ingenious of classical music film
adaptions); when Karajan watched the movie, he immediately called for
Mr. Weissenberg to step in for the planned Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto
No. 2 production, made instead of Sviatoslav Richter).
Weissenberg gave piano master classes all over the world. With his Piano Master Class in Engelberg (Switzerland), he had as students many pianists of the new generation: Kirill Gerstein, Simon Mulligan, Mehmet Okonsar , Nazzareno Carusi, Andrey Ponochevny, Loris Karpell, and Roberto Carnevale among them.
He was also a composer of much piano music and a musical, Nostalgie, that was premiered at the State Theatre of Darmstadt on October 17, 1992.
- Bach: Goldberg Variations
- Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on RCA Red Seal
- Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI (3 CDs)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonatas: “Pathétique, Moonlight and Appassionata”
- Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 (two recordings, with Carlo Maria Giulini and Riccardo Muti, both on the EMI label)
- Brahms: Sonatas for violin & piano Nos. 1-3, with Anne-Sophie Mutter. EMI (CD)
- Chopin: Works for piano and orchestra. EMI (2 CDs)
- Chopin: The Nocturnes. EMI
- Chopin: Piano Sonata Nos. 2 and 3 EMI
- Debussy: Estampes, Suite Bergamasque, Children’s Corner, L’Isle Joyeuse, etc. on Deutsche Grammophon
- Debussy: Piano works. Deutsche Grammophon (CD)
- Franck: Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra (with Herbert von Karajan and The Berlin Philharmonic)
- Liszt: Piano sonata in B minor. Einsatz Records, Japan
- Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 21 with Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
- Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition EMI
- Prokofiev: Piano concerto No.3 – Seiji Ozawa, Orchestre de Paris
- Rachmaninoff: Complete Preludes. RCA Gold Seal (CD)
- Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2. Deutsche Grammophon (CD)
- Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 1972)
- Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (three different recordings, with Georges Pretre, Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein)
- Ravel – Piano concerto – Seiji Ozawa, Orchestre de Paris
- Scarlatti: Sonatas (A selection of 15) on Deutsche Grammophon
- Schumann: “Kinderszenen”, Op. 15 (Toshiba-EMI)
- Alexis Weissenberg DVD: Classic Archive 2008 – Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Prokofiev, Stravinsky.
- Gustl Breuer/Henno Lohmeyer (Hrsg.): »Alexis Weissenberg. Ein kaleidoskopisches Porträt«. Rembrandt Verlag, Berlin 1977.
- Lettre d’Alexis Weissenberg à Bernard Gavoty, 1966
- Weissenberg – Drei Interviews – 2012, Sofia
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