Laurence Dale, director of the Evian Festival, orchestral conductor and a former tenor, has written at our request a short appreciation of Alexis Weissenberg, who died today, aged 82. Laurence sang with Alexis on several occasions and formed a deep friendship. Alexis was a private man, rarely seen or heard in public media. Laurence’s memoir presents him as he was, and as he will be remembered.
Listening to a recording of Alexis Weissenberg, one discovers nearly everything of the man, even though he was a very private man. Few articles and stories about him are out there in the media. But, risking a cliché, the man was his music.
His life was as rich as any film script…. being of Jewish origins in Bulgaria in the 1940’s evokes already some of the aspects one can imagine.
His experiences of the inhumane made him all the more, an extraordinary human being.
Celebrissime pianist, but also composer, before being confronted by destabilising illnesses, he dominated the musical work as one of the greatest pianists of all time and collaborator with the greatest musicians of his time. His phenomenal technique and precision of articulation were characteristic of the man in private. His every gesture was precise; how he sat, how he indicated something which attracted his attention, the manner in which he looked at a painting, how he articulated those thoughts …He reflected on everything… with profound perception but always with a pertinent humour.
To understand the human being, watch the end of the video of his performance of the Rach 2 with Karajan. Alexis plays with expansive, huge broad phrases with amazing detail of articulation and rubati which seem almost impossible, but always in total concord and harmony with his partners. The impeccable trill, the subtle nuances of colour as his turns another phrase in a surprising direction…
Karajan never looks at his musicians, whilst conducting with intensely muscular gestures. With the final chords, Karajan turns to his soloist and dear friend, smiling as broadly as Alexis’ phrases. His expression conveys the pleasure of the unity in interpretation of two monolithic musicians.
If Alexis smiles with a sense of satisfaction there is also a hint of self-mockery… he recognizes his achievement but at the same time remembers his origins, his experiences and the fragility of humanity. A fragility which was to overcome him at a far too early age.
Only today have I been reminded that Alexis’ last public appearance was accompanying me in a rendition of Schubert’s An die Musik at the Salle Gaveau in 2001. It was a moment of lucidity, an inevitable farewell to the scene, a benefit concert for an Autism association that he wanted to help in his typically generous way. The rehearsal time was wonderful, rich in minute observation. The performance somewhat chaotic. However, it had a force ; emotional, restrained, elegant, profound and unequivocal, as was Alexis.