Classical CD Reviews

MOSCHELES and FETIS: “Methode des Methodes”: 20 Etudes de Perfectionnement = Works of MOSCHELES, THALBERG, LISZT, MENDELSSOHN, ROSENHAIN, DOEHLER, WOLFF, HENSELT, BENEDICT, MEREAUX, TAUBERT – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

Mordecai Shehori revives a seminal study in the Romantic keyboard aesthetic, as challenging as it is illustrative of the lost art of legato playing.

Published on September 12, 2010

MOSCHELES and FETIS: “Methode des Methodes”: 20 Etudes de Perfectionnement = Works of MOSCHELES, THALBERG, LISZT, MENDELSSOHN, ROSENHAIN, DOEHLER, WOLFF, HENSELT, BENEDICT, MEREAUX, TAUBERT – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

MOSCHELES and FETIS: “Methode des Methodes”: 20 Etudes de Perfectionnement = MOSCHELES: 2 Etudes; CHOPIN: 3 Etudes; THALBERG: 2 Etudes; MENDELSSOHN: Etude in F Minor; LISZT: Etude in E Major; ROSENHAIN: Etude in D Major; DOEHLER: 2 Etudes; HELLER: Etude in E-flat Major; WOLFF: 2 Etudes; HENSELT: Etude in G-flat Major; BENEDICT: Etude in A-flat Major; MEREAUX: Etude in C-sharp Minor; TAUBERT: 2 Etudes – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 152, 62:54 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Mordecai Shehori has resurrected a unique moment in the history of keyboard aesthetics: the 1838 collaboration between musical theorist Francois-Joseph Fetis (1784-1871) and Bohemian virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) entitled “Methode des Methodes,” a call to twelve renowned piano virtuosos to submit their etude(s) in order to construct the most vital elements and refinements of plastic technique. The 19th Century keyboard virtuoso committed himself to execution and songful expression: the last quality any of these virtuosi demanded would have been percussiveness! Voice leads, polyrhythms, balanced chords, legato between musical periods, and the various application of articulated strokes–all aided by a canny use of pedal technique–constituted the consummation of keyboard control. That Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn–and perhaps Thalberg–of all these men should reign supreme places them within a vital context of musical and aesthetic discipline that too often falls beside the historic wayside.

Moscheles’ two etudes, in A Major and G Minor, require legato at every turn, the former in the top line over 16th notes, the latter dividing the seamless accompaniment in both hands while maintaining a shapely, assertive vocal line. Both etudes indulge in thick chromatic harmonies, a factor that led Schumann to view Moscheles as the natural link from Clementi to Chopin. Chopin’s Trois nouvelles etudes we well know: the F Minor–taken in rapid tempo by Shehori–plays four against three; the D-flat Major places legato and detached-staccato elements in juxtaposition; and Shehori utilizes the Urtext edition of the A-flat Major, rife with emergent voices in the midst of an undulating legato in polyrhythm. Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871) submits first a feathery Etude in E-flat Major that affects three hands, the left hand in Technicolor octaves; the A Minor invites comparison to Liszt’s own “gypsy” pieces that move leger e legato between thematic groups. Mendelssohn offers an F Minor study, translucent but passionate, its agitato accompaniment reminiscent of Schubert’s dark songs. Liszt’s sole contribution he dubbed Ab Irata, “In Anger,” and for a “salon study” it makes vehement points in its wicked trills and skittering figures over much of the keyboard’s expressive range. Of all the etudes included, Liszt’s perhaps ranks as the most inherently percussive.

Jakob Rosenheim (1813-1894) I did not know prior to this Etude in D Major, a graciously light work  that wants simple means to achieve its diaphanous rippling effect, much like Mendelssohn. Theodor Doehler (1814-1856) gives us first an Etude in F Major asks the right hand to step gingerly legato while interrupting itself with gangly staccati; the B Minor Etude “Zingaresa” proves a brutally demanding work, employing double notes and every intervallic stretch from thirds to sevenths in one “effortless,” pellucid bound. Stephen Heller (1813-1888) enjoys a modest repute even today: his E-flat Major Etude “The Hunt” enacts a fox hunt, horns and dogs alight, galloping and chiming in pursuit. A lament arises from the ballad by Nuet le Normand, as a lady deplores the whole as cruel and unnecessary. The wrist action alone warrants respect for any performer undaunted by its demands in articulation. Edouard Wolff (1816-1880) studied with Elsner, Chopin’s mentor, and his E-flat Minor Etude works with rotation in large spans and unbroken legato. Its kinship to Chopin’s Op. 25, No. 1 becomes apparent. The haunting C-sharp Minor Etude likes legato syncopes and–in Shehori’s solution–exchanged thumb positions. Adolf Henselt (1814-1889) has enjoyed the Romantic Revival: his G-flat Major Etude (La Gondola) bathes in liquids we know from Mendelssohn and Chopin and forward to Ravel, the intervals large, the texture transparent, the song pure cantabile.

Sir Julius Benedict, a Weber protégé, proffers an Etude in A-flat Major in repeated chords and octaves, the galloping motif easily reminiscent of Weber himself or lively Hummel. Amedee Meraux (1802-1874), a friend of Chopin, receives virtually no recognition today. His Etude in C-sharp Minor (Elegy) occupies the eighteenth position in this “Method,” and it serves as a tragic pillar in the midst of much aerial virtuosity. The ascending power of the chorale moves–in fervent bass tones–in gestures rife with Bach and Franck. It becomes obvious that were we to celebrate Shehori via CD tribute, this track must figure as a matter of course. Music by William Taubert (1811-1891) concludes the “Method,” first with the Etude in F-sharp Minor (Allegro Serioso), a study in double-notes legato whose middle section chorale Shehori repeats; and the final Etude No. 2 in F-sharp Major (Scherzo), which plays like a capriccio, facile and disarmingly challenging in its interval stretches.

We must conclude that the real beneficiary to this monumental legacy has been Shehori himself, eager to pass the luxuriant baton to those students and auditors alike who have not been ruined by the percussive Philistia of much contemporary pianism.

–Gary Lemco


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