Classical Reissue Reviews

Mordecai Shehori New York Concerts, Vol. 7 = CLEMENTI: Sonata in F-sharp Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: “Grande Sonate” in G Major; KHACHATURIAN: Vocalise; LISZT: Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”; BACH: Adagio; MOSZKOWSKI: Etude in F Major; CHOPIN: Mazurka in G Minor; Polonaise in A-flat Major “Heroic” – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

Selected from recital programs at Weill Hall and the 92nd St. Y in NYC, 1979-90.

Published on May 5, 2013

Mordecai Shehori New York Concerts, Vol. 7 = CLEMENTI: Sonata in F-sharp Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: “Grande Sonate” in G Major; KHACHATURIAN: Vocalise; LISZT: Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”; BACH: Adagio; MOSZKOWSKI: Etude in F Major; CHOPIN: Mazurka in G Minor; Polonaise in A-flat Major “Heroic” – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

Mordecai Shehori New York Concerts, Vol. 7 = CLEMENTI: Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 26, No. 2; TCHAIKOVSKY: “Grande Sonate” in G Major, Op. 37; KHACHATURIAN: Vocalise; LISZT: Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”; BACH (arr. Marcello): Adagio; MOSZKOWSKI: Etude in F Major, Op. 72; CHOPIN: Mazurka in G Minor, Op. 24, No. 1; Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 “Heroic” – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 172, 69:02 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Concert virtuoso and record producer Mordecai Shehori extends his legacy of “Celebrated New York Recitals” with this latest edition, culled from programs given at Weill Recital Hall and the Ninety-Second Street Y, 1979-1990. At moments, the assembled program resembles a tribute to Shehori’s mentor Vladimir Horowitz; at other moments, the repertory pays homage to stellar personalities Gyorgy Cziffra, Artur Rubinstein, and Sviatoslav Richter. But always Shehori projects his own luminous personality, a combination of debonair bravura and intellectually penetrating musicianship.

The program opens with Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a gifted composer and pianist whom Mozart dubbed rather unfortunately as a “mere mechanicus,” and history for some time consigned him to etudes and finger-exercises. But Horowitz and Cziffra transformed Clementi back to his formerly revered status as a bold experimenter with musical forms. The three-movement F-sharp Minor Sonata (rec. 1982) reveals in due course a passionate side to the composer’s nature, touched by a sense of sturm und drang. The Lento e patetico second movement permits Shehori some singing lines devoid of artifice, presented in bold, clear figures. Power and canny pedaling combine to make the last movement Presto a moment that transcends mere bravura and rather startles us and the New York audience into ardent appreciation.

Shehori continues with Tchaikovsky’s 1878 Grande Sonate in G, conceived in Switzerland and dedicated to Karl Klindworth (rec. 1990). The Sonata did not come easily to the composer, who was at the same time committed to the Violin Concerto. The ethos of the opening Moderato e risoluto strongly borrows from Schumann, particularly that composer’s First Sonata, Op. 11. The percussive motto theme will permeate all of the piece, but Shehori attempts to color its obsessive traits with graduated dynamics and caressing legato articulation.  The boldness of the chords soon imitates orchestral timbres. Can one detect a vague reference to the Dies Irae running through the sonata-form first movement, almost tempting Rachmaninov to follow suit? Perhaps the imposing vistas of the Swiss Alps lend something of their austere height and girth to this music, which Shehori plays as a chiaroscuro of mass and intimate lyrical textures. Bold declamations end the movement, assertive and eminently symphonic.

Certainly the nostalgic Andante non troppo quasi moderato second movement in E Minor captures the composer’s longing “to return to the plains,” his natural Russian habitat.  If power marks the first movement, a sense of poignant melancholy defines this Adagio. Whether we feel tolling bells or passing lullabies, the intimacy projected often recalls Schumann’s Album for the Young or even Tchaikovsky’s own Op. 39. A real singing melody emerges that Shehori keeps taut and ennobled, refusing to let it succumb to limp sentimentality. The more playful aspects of the movement scamper about in flourishes easily recalling the Schumann Fantasie, Op. 17. The music moves to a kind of epilogue, haunted and hesitant, again groping towards the more Italianate melos that suits the composer better than his “Germanic” ambitions. The skittish Scherzo (Allegro giocoso) resembles the same movement in the Chopin B Minor Sonata. The music moves in nervous cascades of sound, the scales a bit modal, an anticipation of Debussy at times. Declamatory ferocity returns with the Finale: Allegro vivace, but also that scampering quality that resolves into a cantabile moment; but then Tchaikovsky’s penchant to prove himself a serious composer makes him write counterpoint where he might have remained simple. Shehori, however, retains the deep sincerity in the music, his tone colors and variety of touches imparting to Tchaikovsky a respect he deserves when sitting among his stellar Romantics. While perhaps not so wildly abandoned as the Richter versions, this Shehori incarnation graces Tchaikovsky with that delicate balance of Classical and Romantic impulses.

In its recording debut, the last piece composed by Aram Khachaturian, his 1978 Vocalise, receives a liquid incarnation (rec. 1989) from Shehori. A lilting combination of Liszt’s harmony and Debussy’s famous “Reverie,” the piece becomes a “swan-song” in every sense of the word, achieving that decidedly Armenian cast that colors the composer’s oeuvre with an ineffable seal of largesse. Shehori bears the distinction of being the first to perform this sweet remembrance publically. Having invoked the name of Liszt, that composer pays his one homage to Tchaikovsky in the form of the Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin, a splashy arrangement often favored by the late Gyorgy Cziffra. Its knotty figurations and bold chordal progressions daunt Shehori (rec. 1990) not at all, and he serves it up as a rich orchestral brew that thunders and swirls, respectively. The colossal final pages thunder to a natural peroration meant to elicit “Bravos!” from the rapt audience.

Four encores ensue: first, the Bach arrangement of the Marcello tune from an oboe concerto, a musical moment that hangs in space surrounded by unearthly “intimations of immortality.” The dynamic control Shehori exerts on this Adagio lives as a model (rec. 1982) of restraint for recorded history, certainly the equal of anything in Edwin Fischer. The brilliant F Major Moszkowski Etude (rec. 1980) enjoys the impish bravura of a clever imitator of Chopin, confident in his ability to catch the wind. Finally, two contrasting affections from the eternal Chopin: his G Minor Mazurka, Op. 24, No. 1 (rec. 1989), shifting its accent and indulging its audacious harmonies in subdued revolution. When it does leap to a more “nationalistic” pose, the mood remains intimate and world-weary. The ubiquitous “Heroic” Polonaise (rec. 1979) finds in Shehori yet another passionate advocate of its ability to rouse both the rabble and the aristocracy at once, here in terms perfectly in combat with the likes of Rubinstein, Cziffra, and Horowitz. To quote Zorba, Shehori does indeed “cut the rope” and allows the passionate sweep and bold flamboyance of the piece to exert themselves, without apology. If possible, the middle section explodes to an even higher intensity, the strums and gallops invoking an army of Polish Hussars and patriots whose fury will not accept defeat. The last page virtually makes the piano fly about twenty feet.

—Gary Lemco


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