After his retirement from live concerts, Glenn Gould often advised callers asking to engage him that his highest recommendation for a replacement, was the pianist Alexis Weissenberg.
Herbert von Karajan, praised him as "one of the best pianists of our time."
Indeed, to some, Weissenberg was a formidable pianist, one of the greatest piano legends of all time. Others though, while admiring his brilliance and his command of the piano, found him lacking in warmth and emotion.
Controversial and enigmatic as he was, he clearly reached a high ranking position among the elite pianists of the 20th century. He was continuously in demand, one of the busiest pianists on the concert stage and as a recording artist. He collaborated with the leading conductors of the 20th century: Leonard Bernstein, Georg Szell, Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini, Eugene Ormandy, Ricardo Muti, Georges Prétre, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Victor de Sabata, William Steinberg, Peter Maag and Seiji Ozawa.
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria on July 26, 1929 to a Jewish family, Alexis (Sigi) Weissenberg was first taught by his mother. He subsequently studied with Bulgaria's great composer and pianist Pancho Vladigerov (1899 - 1978).
In 1941, when Bulgaria sided with the Axis and Nazi Germany, his mother tried to escape with him to Turkey but was caught and detained for several months in a concentration camp in Bulgaria. While there, a German guard who heard Sigi plays the accordion, liked him and assisted them to board a train going across the border to Istanbul.
From Istanbul, they made their way to Israel (then Palestine)
in 1945 and Weissenberg became a protege of the famous music pedagog
and scholar Leo Kestenberg (1882 - 1962). The young teenager was
soon invited to appear in recitals and as soloist in Israel with
the Jerusalem Radio Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
[3 times: On May 16 1945 with Georg Singer conducting; on January
17 1946 with Louis Cohen conducting and on June 4, 1950 with Leonard
Bernstein conducting], and on tour of South Africa.
In 1946 he left for USA with letters of introduction from Kestenberg to Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Schnabel. From 1946 to 1949 he enrolled at the Juilliard Music School in the class of Olga Samaroff .
In 1947 he entered and won the Leventritt Competition - USA's
most prestigious competition.
Solo engagements with leading orchestras followed, including with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (February 28, 1948, George Szell conducting), Philadelphia Orchestra, and in other countries.
It was then that he recorded his first LP: Piano works by Prokofiev
and Scriabin (Columbia ML 2099 included in this set).
The mid-1950s find him in Paris (He subsequently became a French citizen). For several years he withdrew from concertizing altogether. In this period however, he made two outstanding LPs for the French label LUMEN (LD 3.400 and LD 3.404 both included in this set). The second LP, devoted to Liszt piano works, includes his first recording of the Liszt B minor sonata - in a performance arguably the finest and most exciting ever put on record. Another outstanding recorded achievement was a video of the piano version of Stravinsky's Petrushka made in 1965.
He returned to the concert stage in the mid 1960's as Alexis Weissenberg.
In 1966 he played the Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with
the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan. At
about that time his long and successful association with EMI commenced.
Among his international important engagements , in 1968 he was
featured at the Salzburg Festival.
After his December 1968 re-engagement with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The TIME Magazine of December 20, 1968, compared the young Sigi (from his NYPO engagement of 1948) to Alexis, (of 1968) and commented that Sigi pianistic traits: "triphammer virtuosity, brilliant tone, a briskly commanding approach to a score" were now "tempered with subtler shading and a surer sense of structure... He was one of those comets in the musical sky that turned out to be meteors".
Perhaps because of his cryptic personality, his brilliant career
suffered occasional, temporary withdrawals. At the end of his
life he was inflicted by Parkinson's disease. Alexis Sigi Weissenberg
died on January 8th 2012 in Lugano, Switzerland.