Flier first attended the class of Kozlovsky at the Moscow Conservatory, then joined the piano class of Konstantin Igumnov, graduating in 1934. Under Igumnov’s supervision, Flier graduated from the master school in 1937 and during this period he won first prize at the All-Union Competition in Leningrad and first prize at the Vienna Piano Competition. In 1938 Flier won third prize at the Ysaÿe Competition in Brussels and had already begun his long and important career as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory. After World War II, Flier was appointed professor of piano at the Moscow Conservatory, a post he held until his death. Although he performed in the USSR and abroad, in 1949 he suffered a serious injury to his hand, which prevented him from performing for ten years. After returning to the concert platform in 1959 he was made a People’s Artist of the RSFSR.
Flier is remembered primarily as a teacher, since his performing career was not only interrupted by his hand injury but also hampered by the political situation in the USSR, which made touring difficult. He did, however, play in London, but not until he was fifty, and at this time broadcast for the BBC. At his first appearance in London Flier played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 23, which was described as a performance of ‘magisterial command’; ‘…there was never any emotional hysteria in Mr Flier’s emotional tension.’ Three days later he played Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in one concert.
Flier’s style is very much in the grand Russian tradition of a big sound and technique, but he was always in control at climaxes in the music; as the critic said, it was a controlled tension rather than hysteria. His recording of Liszt’s arrangement of Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is expansive, more spiritually ecstatic than physically. A disc of Chopin made five years before Flier’s death shows that he valued clarity and restraint when performing this composer. Again, in works such as the Barcarolle Op. 60 he does not give a performance of swooning ecstasy, but is chaste and refined.
Very few of Flier’s recordings have been made available in the West. His most famous recording is that of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto conducted by Kyrill Kondrashin which has appeared on LP and compact disc. However, nine compact discs on the Japanese label Triton, although they received a very limited circulation nevertheless contain fascinating repertoire such as Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 and many works by Liszt, Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Schumann. Flier’s most notable pupils include Viktoria Postnikova, Vladimir Feltsman, and Mikhail Pletnev.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist