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Mordecai Shehori – The Alice Tully Hall Recital of 7 June 2000 = Works of MOZART, BRAHMS, RAVEL, LISZT, CHOPIN & MOZSKOWSKI – Cembal d’amour

The Mordecai Shehori recital from Alice Tully Hall in 2000 reveals a master Romantic pianist.

Mordecai Shehori – The Alice Tully Hall Recital of 7 June 2000 = MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 8 in a minor, K. 310; BRAHMS: 25 Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24; RAVEL: Sonatine; LISZT: 3 Petrarch Sonnets; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; CHOPIN: Mazurka in a minor, Op. 17, No. 4; MOZSKOWSKI: Guitar, Op. 45, No. 2 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 181, 48:52, 48:44 (2 CDs) (12/1/15) [www.cembaldamour.com] *****:

Mordecai Shehori on this given recital date performs as a man possessed: rarely has a single program maintained the heroic velocity and intensity of expression we find in the set of five major works presented 7 June 2000 at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. The incredibly active microphone placement captures not only Shehori’s keyboard presence, but the palpable, nervous energy of the audience, both eager and startled by every nuance, every explosion in the course of the musics’ evolution.

Shehori opens with Mozart’s 1778 a minor Sonata, an overtly tragic work composed during an abortive sojourn to Paris at the time Mozart’s beloved mother was dying. Dinu Lipatti had included this volatile, sturm und drang work among the selected pieces for his last recital in 1950 Besancon. Shehori treats the first movement Allegro maestoso in a thoroughly herculean manner, its aggressive forward rush of martial notes whose eighth notes in the left hand complement a distinct, dotted rhythm asking for the thumb’s contribution. Just as tumultuous, chains of sixteenth notes bombard our sensibilities, without any luxuriant melody to assuage the emotional assault. Shehori does not permit much relaxation of tension in the F Major Andante cantabile con espressione that follows, despite its persuasive, affective eloquence. The finale, a turbulent Presto, may allow some sweet gleams of light, but the sensibility belongs to Poe’s line that refers to those “who laugh but smile no more.”

Shehori then embarks upon a particular keyboard odyssey, the 1861 Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, a virtual compendium of keyboard technique garnered from the composer’s thorough knowledge of ancient scores and music practice, limiting his invention to Handel’s theme in B-flat Major from a 1733 harpsichord suite. Despite his few digressions into the tonic minor, Brahms preserves the home key in spite of powerful filigree and flights of heroic fancy – embracing such lyric forms as siciliano, Hungarian dance, and alla musette – as well as “learned” application of strict polyphonic devices endemic to Handel’s own style. Shehori proceeds to establish his own sense of tempo, augmented by a dynamic control that ranges from granite chords to vapor trails in pianissimo. Shehori’s capacity to “make tone” fills his sound world often with the illusion of three-hand voice leading, a legacy Brahms inherited from Schumann. The last group proves a preparation for and fulfillment of a colossal fugue that honors Bach perhaps more than Handel in its stentorian power.

The 1905 Ravel Sonatine offers Shehori other challenges which he meets elegantly. Ravel opts for exotic colors, not the least of which lies in his Aeolian mode of f-sharp minor for the opening Modere, whose intervals vacillate between a perfect fourth and perfect fifth. Shehori has a good sense of the breathed spaces between the periods in this piece, which has few pedal markings to indicate the dynamic levels. The beguiling Mouvement de menuet asks for a predominance of flat keys in modal harmony along with upbeats, giving us a sense of ancient, aristocratic poise. Well in the Liszt tradition, the last movement Anime presents us Shehori in fluid, toccata motion in the same key as the first movement, again employing intervals that impose a cyclic architecture to the whole. Smooth running in the midst of thrilling animation, even in the sudden shift to 5/4 marked Meme movement tranquille, a sense of inner serenity which Shehori has demonstrated throughout.

If Ravel seems relatively restrained, buckle up for Shehori’s reading of the three Petrarch Sonnets, of which No. 104 reigns in Romantic temperament. The entire Liszt group, including a blistering reading of the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, unleashes torrents of sound, melodic as well as bass harmonies, that certify Shehori as a natural exponent of his pedagogy – Mindru Katz and Vladimir Horowitz – and to his affective idol, Simone Barere. The “romantic” element, a direct response to the Latin poet’s declamations of love, desire, and agonized contradiction, finds sweeping, anguished, symphonic gestures in Shehori’s realizations, which in Mephisto become absolutely demonic. With his two encores – his preferred Mazurka in a minor from Chopin’s Op. 17 and the charming Moszkowski Guitarre in G Major – Shehori synthesizes the two impulses, poetic and bravura, of his dynamic and masterful program.

—Gary Lemco

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