Classical CD Reviews

CHOPIN: 12 Etudes, Op. 10 and 12 Etudes; Trois Nouvelles Etude for the “Methode des Methodes” – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

An edition of the Chopin Etudes that seeks "truth and poetry," the Shehori version should stand as a testament to scholarship and musical devotion at its highest level.

Published on December 10, 2012

CHOPIN: 12 Etudes, Op. 10 and 12 Etudes; Trois Nouvelles Etude for the “Methode des Methodes” – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

CHOPIN: 12 Etudes, Op. 10 and 12 Etudes, Op. 25; Trois Nouvelles Etude for the “Methode des Methodes” by Moscheles and Fetis – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 170, 67:52 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:

After an exhaustive study of the Chopin urtexts and autograph editions of the Chopin etudes, pianist-musicologist Mordecai Shehori has inscribed (11-14 November 2011 for Op. 10 and 11-15 August 2012 for Op. 25) what must be the most scholarly and musical realization of Chopin’s intentions so far as a  “method” that would embrace both technical prowess and lyrical expression.  In his note, Shehori “discovered hundreds of disagreements between the autographs and the printed editions; and in all cases, of course, Chopin is always right. [They] simply sound more beautiful and make more compositional sense.  .  .  .Even in the Urtext editions there are mistakes in dynamics, slurs, voice leadings; there are other instructions, adding staccatos where they are not indicated, not differentiating between portatos, staccatosa, and staccatissimos.  .  .You will hear voices that are indicated by Chopin but never realized
before.  .  .”

Pride of place goes to the Etude in A Minor, Op. 25, No. 11 “Winter Wind,” which Vladimir Horowitz declared “impossible” due its severe demands on wrist rotation. Among the “old guard” of keyboard luminaries, only Josef Lhevinne could claim apocryphal hegemony in this piece, but Shehori rallies forth, offering beyond the work’s mid-point several articulated voices that have too long lay buried in the outer fioritura. The dotted left hand ostinato remains intact and does not degenerate into triplets. By allowing the CD to continue, the “Ocean” Etude in C Minor sings in the tenor voice, courtesy of the right hand thumb, while accents fall from only the left hand on the third beat of each bar. Shehori labels the singing line “a male chorus. . .the artistic foundation of the Etude.”

I find Shehori’s tempo in the first of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes fast, but he will tell me it is exactly what Chopin intends, three against four in quick time while retaining absolute evenness in articulation. The A-flat seems less tragic than its wont, but its three against two brings up sweet  voices. The D-flat Major asks much of the right hand, staccato and legato to accompany two voices in the left, nimbly done. On the note of deft articulation, try Shehori’s Op. 25, No. 3, with its clever parody of symmetrical accents.

It is well to recall Chopin’s own commitment to singing art and the bel canto style: Shehori freely acknowledges Bidu Sayao as the source of his own instrumental vocalism. From the outset, Shehori wants a firm singing line in the midst of opposed dynamics or counterpoint; and while the Henle edition of Chopin insists on symmetrical motions, Chopin wants asymmetry, that “iconoclastic classicism” of which Artur Rubinstein spoke. The seamless articulation of the F Minor, Op. 10, No. 2 creates a weird clock that sings itself to sleep in thirds below the soprano line. Chopin’s own favorite, the plaintive E Major, achieves a studied dynamic, a ff relative to very soft and intimate ppp. Congratulations ot Shehori for an exact rendering of the G-flat Major Etude, here rendered with right accents. Pearly play in the runs accounts for the least of the brilliant effects he produces.

The most “Rachmaninov” of the two sets, the E-flat Minor plays here as a studied, mournful aria whose passing dissonances toll in subtle colors. Etude No. 7 in C, a series of hula hoops in thirds and sixths, has rarely played so legato, but more often as an acrobatic study in syncopes. The left hand jumps out refreshed in the F Major, a sturdy and virile voice otherwise buried amidst the flurries from the right hand. Shehori mentions the too often substitution of staccati for portato markings, the slur meant to soften the effect. Thus No. 9  in F Minor and No. 9 in G-flat Major of the Op. 25 group assume a new intimacy as well as articulated clarity of line. The No. 11 in E-flat Major brings out Chopin’s predilection – here, in a “harp” modality –  for tripartite structures, three “tests” in figurative groups and articulations, as in the B Minor, Op. 25, No. 10. The so-called “Revolutionary” Etude in C Minor maintains its dotted rhythms in the bass line while the music quite sweeps us away without resorting to volcanoes in lieu of human passions.

The so-called “Aeolian” Etude in A-flat Major reveals its three-part test of digital fluency: six and six, six and four, six and five, as Shehori demonstrates the clarity and subsequent luminosity of the composer’s vision. Wrist rotation in spades for the F Minor, Op. 25, No. 2, with the benefit of middle voice singing of which we may have been unaware. The fiendish A Minor which, among its multifarious demands, wants a glib, seamless lightness of touch in the midst of a catalogue of effects, has a true acolyte in Shehori. The “broken style of the E Minor gives way to a “song without end,” ravishing in its left hand, dramatically rendered as an homage to Horowitz. Shehori brings a kind of “symphonic” sound to the G-sharp Minor, which slides from white to black keys over a rock-like left hand, much in the style of Chopin’s mazurkas but with careful, graduated dynamics like a nocturne. “Nocturne” defines the colossal No. 7 in C-sharp Minor, a noble portrait of intimate sadness in the form of a duet. The popular D-flat Major Etude calls for nimble sixths in both hands, smoothly executed by Shehori, as required. Maybe not since Josef Hofmann played the “Butterfly” Etude have we heard it take flight with a fluttering dexterity, leggierissimo, as the composer intended.  To call this disc “scholarly” would be a half-truth, since the real poetry of the notes has rarely been extracted with such precision.

—Gary Lemco

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