Mordecai Shehori: The Celebrated New York Concerts, Vol. 12 = Works by HANDEL; BEETHOVEN; CHOPIN;  SCHUBERT; LISZT – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour 

Mordecai Shehori: The Celebrated New York Concerts, Vol. 12 = HANDEL: Chaconne in G Major, G. 229; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 in d minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “The Tempest”; CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60; Polonaise in f-sharp minor, Op. 44; SCHUBERT (arr. Liszt): Staendchen; LISZT: Legend No. 2 “Saint Francis of Paola Walking on the Waves – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 189, 66:51 (5/8/17) [cembaldamour.com] *****: 

Add yet another gem to the legacy of New York recitals that impressed admirers of Mordecai Shehori. 

Mordecai Shehori continues to bestow his authoritative legacy from his New York Concerts, here that of 2 June 1993 at Weill Recital Hall, which offers a real cornucopia of keyboard color.  He opens with Handel’s 1733 Chaconne in G Major, a ground theme (a Spanish sarabande) and twenty-one variations published as part of the Suite No. 2. Within the ten minutes of its inventive girth, the work subsumes many of the contours of the French school of clavecinistes Rameau and Couperin, while becoming increasingly virile until the middle variants, which settle into an arioso and contrapuntal g minor. The G Major return at variation 17 marks Handel in his best, frothy energy that Shehori communicates with a largesse and digital accuracy guaranteed to supplant our old Edwin Fischer model.

Shehori’s Tempest Sonata shares several characteristics revealed by his mentor Mindru Katz, not the least of which lies in the superbly controlled dynamic range and interior articulation of the competing impulses. Much of the opening Largo – Allegro plays like an improvised experiment in rhythmic and harmonic motion. That a sense of melody emerges in the course of such an “antic disposition” seems that much more remarkable. The often hard patina can dissolve into a purr or murmur, a kind of purling of the voices. The music becomes, momentarily in the latter pages, rapt and singularly personal, until the fateful staccati engender another rush of tempestuous figures.

The broken, almost desultory figurations that open the Adagio again possess a searching, groping quality, an emotion seeking its proper medium of expression. The step-wise melody suddenly achieves confidence and authority, despite the disruptive bass “fate” figure.  Much of the ensuing competition anticipates the course of the middle movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto, the taming of the maenads by Orpheus. The galloping Allegretto, a kind of fervent moto perpetuo, enjoys a plastic rhythmic pulse and mighty explosions of graduated color. At times, the “Aeolian Harp” effect achieves a luminous arioso, only to succumb to Beethoven’s impish penchant for disruption. Our heads and hearts having spun for six lavish minutes, we find release in Shehori’s liquid coda, an abrupt benediction.

The two Chopin works, in the major and minor modes of F-sharp, present complementary affects and poetic impulses.  The 1845 Barcarolle seems more operatic than an evocation of Venice, which Chopin had never visited. Its potent, often aggressive progress reminds us more of a ballade than any boat-song.  The ostinato rhythm, trills, luxurious thirds and sixths, all rise up at one point in glorious A Major Technicolor.  Chopin indicates a passage dolce sfogato, literally a “sweet air of mystery” that Chopin develops into a passionate duet that, despite its ardor, bears a touch of melancholy, sublimated anxiety.  Has Shehori performed a ballade, a nocturne, a stormy but consoling water piece? Hard upon the Barcarolle, the huge 1841 Polonaise, Op. 44 seems an angry tiger, tragic and convulsive.  The rocket figures that permeate its first three minutes hurtle forward, more of a fantasia or scherzo than a Polish dance. The music suddenly assumes an obsessive quality in the dance that itself cedes to a consoling mazurka in A Major, much like the tendresse in the Barcarolle.  That Shehori infuses the grand piece with mystery and heroism faithfully realizes the mighty ambitions of this product of Nohant, which Chopin himself called “ugly.” The sheer sweep of such “ugliness” brings to mind my first encounter with the work, via Vladimir Horowitz.

The famous Serenade (Staendchen) of Franz Schubert derives from his last days of 1828, as part of his posthumous song-cycle Schwanengesang, D. 957.  The Rellstab poem which the music fills out relates a lover’s pleas to his beloved.  Liszt exploits echo and antiphonal effects over the repeated bass notes that eventually create both a chorale and a dirge, at once. Before the last sequence, a tiny cadenza flourish adds a touch of bravura to the haunted atmosphere, rife with anxiety and vulnerability.

With one titanic gesture, Shehori approaches the 1863 Legend No. 2, St. Francis Walking on the Waves across the Straits of Messina, subsuming its rich architecture in heroic terms. Liszt had taken minor holy orders to become Abbe Liszt, and he conceived two St. Francis—of Assisi and Paolo—legends in homage to the “miraculous” relationship of music and spirituality. While impressionistic in some respects, the work quite literally traces the certitude with which Francis, having been denied (free) passage across the Straits by a ferryman, throws his cloak upon the waters and employs his staff to impel himself ahead of the ferry and its passengers. The triumph of faith over doubt and adversity plays itself in full force from the outset, with Shehori’s adopting a merciless tempo, first set in octaves in E, and then moving through agitated bass tremolandi, discordant harmonies (in g minor), and whirling chromatic harmonies that indicate clashing waves. But all fears disperse as the heroic theme ascends and even the menacing octaves contribute to the moral victory. The audience seems as full of thanksgiving as Francis, having dared the elements to hear a truly titanic rendition in an evening filled with passionate musicianship.

—Gary Lemco

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