Listen and learn’ serves as the satisfying rubric for this diverse excursion into the music of many styles.
Mordecai Shehori: Learning by Example Series, Vol. 4 = DUSSEK: Allegro in G Major; DIABELLI: Bagatelle in C Major; HAYDN: “Gypsy” Rondo; BEETHOVEN: Gertrude’s Dream Waltz; “Rage Over a Lost Penny,” Op. 129; SCHUMANN: Traeumerei, Op. 15, No. 7; The Prophet Bird; GRIEG: Papillon; WALDTEUFEL: The Skaters Waltz; FIELD: Nocturne in B-flat Major; FAURE: Romance sans Paroles; MASSENET: Melodie; DEBUSSY: Clair de Lune; Deux Arabesques; Reverie; A. RUBINSTEIN: Romance in E-flat Major; ALBENIZ: Malaguena; SCRIABIN: Album Leaf; KABALEVSKY: Having Fun; JOPLIN: The Cascades – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour 184, 70:33 (8/1/16) *****:
The first piece I sought out on Mordecai Shehori’s latest “Learning by Example” disc (rec. 6/16) was Beethoven’s 1795 “gypsy” rondo in G Major, his “Rage over a Lost Penny.” Ever deceptive in its innocent lightness and charm, this work establishes a pattern – 56 measures long – of repeats in the left hand with an ascent in the right that move from G Major to e minor and then back to g minor. Beethoven exploits this “ternary” pattern throughout, with modulations to A-flat Major and E Major that keep us in harmonic suspense and surprise. Shehori’s original tempo for the rapid fingering at first seems slow, especially compared to manic versions by Kissin and others who prefer the virtuosic over and above the musical. When Beethoven adds jabbing accents and roulades, however, the expansive humor becomes so much more apparent and inventive.
This has been Shehori’s way: to pay minute attention to the details of composition so that music emerges refreshed. To wit, Shehori comments on his version of the oft-familiar “Dreams” from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, immortalized as a Vladimir Horowitz encore:
“Please notice that I obey Schumann’s upbeats instruction in the Traumerei…getting shorter and shorter as written. First time a quarter, then an 8th, then an appoggiatura. In the first repeat I make it slightly shorter as well, in order to not play exactly the same. together with different voice leading…no one ever did it. Not even Vlodia……hundreds of other beautiful details in so many pieces…
It is against what has been going in the last 40 years when The New York Times younger critics decided that a “big line” should not have any details. Maybe it is true for a 200-floors steel and glass building, but it is certainly wrong for classical music and classical painting where millions details are creating the large structure IF they are done correctly.”
So, too, many of the selections on this disc will reveal their “true” colors in the course of a splendid hour. Shehori performs his own transcriptions of the “Gypsy Rondo” from Haydn’s Piano Trio, Op. 39 and Les Patineurs of Emil Waldteufel, the latter certainly as natural and bubbly a solo piano piece as Weber’s Invitation to the Dance. John Field’s Nocturne No. 5 assumes a freshness that makes us realize why Chopin felt the urge to this form of expression. The crisp articulation in Faure’s Romance provides seamless evidence of a natural legato and poignant lacunae. The Massenet Melodie acquires an introspective intimacy it might otherwise have lost. The ubiquitous Clair de Lune – sans cloying luftpausen – makes us clamor for the entire Suite Bergamasque by Shehori. The arioso character of the E Major Arabesque – as songful as my long-favorite versions by Cherkassky and Gieseking – owes debts, I daresay, to Bidu Sayao’s influence on Shehori’s singing line. Can Debussy be made to sound like Scarlatti? Try Shehori’s G Major Arabesque.
The two Spanish works – by Albeniz and Granados, respectively – apply a different set of touches and color sonorities that strike us for their guitar tablature and erotic gestures. The suddenness of the transitions lures us into a suggestive realm of dance and passionate embrace that flamenco and “deep song” (cante jondo) exemplify. Collectors may recall that Segovia turned the Granados Spanish Dance (Andaluza) into an epic for guitar and orchestra. Shehori enters another Horowitz sanctum, ever briefly, in the Album Leaf, Op. 45, No. 1 of Scriabin, a mystical Russian’s version of compressed passion. The last two pieces, by Kabalevsky and Joplin, first scamper then flirt in jazzy strides in a manner Shehori had captured just as brilliantly in his excursion into Zez Confrey some years ago.