Mordecai Shehori – The Celebrated New York Concerts, Vol. 10 = SCHUBERT: Impromptu in f, D, No. 1; CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in b; Mazurka in c-sharp; PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet: Dance of the Girls with Lillies, The Montagues and the Capulets, Suggestion Diabolique; SHEHORI: Lament – In Memory of 9/11/2001 Victims; GLUCK: Melodie from Orfeo – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

The tenth of the Shehori New York recitals gives us a composite of gorgeously-rendered works.

Mordecai Shehori – The Celebrated New York Concerts, Vol. 10 = SCHUBERT: Impromptu in f, D. 935, No. 1; CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in b, Op. 58; Mazurka in c-sharp, Op. 30, No. 4; PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75: Dance of the Girls with Lillies, The Montagues and the Capulets;, Suggestion Diabolique, Op. 4, No. 4; SHEHORI: Lament – In Memory of 9/11/2001 Victims; GLUCK: Melodie from Orfeo – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour CD 186, 58:00 (1/29/17) [www.cembaldamour.com] ****: 

Mordecai Shehori offers a compilation of New York recitals on a CD he proudly calls “my most beautiful one that will challenge anyone, even among the great dead ones.”

Certainly beauty of tone appears to dominate the ethos of this collection of works performed 1985-2001 at Merkin Concert Hall and Alice Tully Hall. The majority of compositions – the first eight bands on the disc – derive from a successful traversal of Schubert, Chopin, and Prokofiev works, of which the great 1844 b minor Sonata of Chopin dominates the stage. Not that the Schubert f minor Impromptu lacks power or lyric drama. In fact, in the long pantheon of epic interpretations – those by Artur Schnabel, Annie Fischer, Gyorgy Cziffra, and Wilhelm Kempff – Shehori exhibits a marvelously fluent reading both polished and hauntingly introspective. A sonata-movement in own terms, the piece sometimes conveys an aspect of a ballade whose middle section involves a dialogue between the treble and bass, with middle register arpeggios.  Shehori applies his own rubato and pedal dynamics that create a subtle tapestry whose rhythmic contours alter in the course of the late pages, almost in the manner of a Chopin mazurka. Lacking a ‘development’ as such, the music does not correspond to a sonata-movement, but it compels us to listen to its sudden harmonic shifts and repeated figures in a state of mesmeric awe.

So, too, the Chopin first movement of the Third Sonata carries a broad spectrum of color and emotion, in the manner of a ballade. Wickedly mercurial, the music dashes from a vigorous Allegro maestoso into d minor and lovely D Major, the bass a winding contour that smears the harmony much like a nocturne but rife with a lyric agitation. Filaments of melody and liquid trills pass by, sometimes at a leisurely gallop, often in a kind of serene reverie. While Lipatti’s rendition has a firm grip, the piano sound lacks the full sonority that Shehori projects, with those same colored chords we hear in Robert Casadesus. Chopin’s especially poetic counterpoint emerges, the two lyrical themes in exquisite competition, lulling and intimate. The ensuing Scherzo – in E-flat Major and a middle section in B – plays as an explosive etude, often with sudden, jarring urgency. The movement passes from our midst with on onrush of energy that leaves a kind of wake, a vacuum the Largo fills with infinite nostalgia. Here, Shehori’s unbroken cantabile proceeds as a coloratura aria – preferably sung by his beloved Bidu Sayao – that holds back slightly by virtue of dotted rhythm. Then, the long periods of sustained rapture extend in chains of sweet, reflexive gestures that might not ever end. The blazing Finale: Presto, non tanto proclaims itself a rondo, but it acts like a ballade in 6/8 whose emotional momentum does not wish to relax. Shehori’s opening eight bars alone should destroy any complacency we Chopinistes retain. The successive flight of passionate chords and octaves assume the inexorable power we attribute the last movement of the Beethoven Seventh. The convulsive coda literally rocks the hall with Jovian thunder.  The relatively “minor” Mazurka Shehori proffers at the conclusion of this disc has no less of concentrated lyricism and heroism. Its tricky, witty, agogic shifts ring with national and erotic gestures, at once.

The ten selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet allow any number of keyboard effects their sentimental and muscular range. The first impulse, modest and lyric, offers a gavotte in staccato that captures a demure sense of tragedy.  The stentorian, martial The Montagues and the Capulets sets the catastrophic mind-set of the entire drama, and Shehori’s “symphonic” realization reminds me how much the orchestral rendition from Mitropoulos first shook me. The wily Suggestion dialobolique contains many a gesture taken from Mussorgsky, particularly the malice of repeated notes and passing grace notes. The Shehori spiked performance could be construed as a sound thrashing of our sensibilities, which likely conveys what Prokofiev intended.

Prior to my receipt of Mordecai Shehori’s Vol. 10 of his Celebrated New York Concerts, he had sent me a message that, among other topics, addressed his having composed Lament – In Memory of the 9/11/2001 Victims, composed (“in one seating”) on that fateful night and performed live at Alice Tully Hall (2 May 2002):  “I always believe that one cannot play the piano well without at least trying to compose because it gives one understanding of the inner logic of music.”  His composition, convulsive and wrenching, captures the abruptness of the catastrophe, its agony in a series of scalar patterns in tandem with pounding, unforgiving ostinati. Even when the dynamic softens, the effect reminds one of gasps after an apocalypse. From the low bass a crescendo proceeds, also a tremolo, a vibration that must invoke global repercussions. If the manner suggests Chopin and Liszt, the punishment hints at the loss of humanity, in the lightly intoned note-fragments from Beethoven’s Ninth. This is the way the world ends, in a whimper. And juxtaposed in time and space – at the same recital – we have the liquid pearls of Gluck’s “Melodie” from Orfeo ed Eurydice, here rivaling the distilled beauty of the Wilhelm Kempff rendition.

—Gary Lemco

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