Mordecai Shehori, piano, plays SCHUMANN and LISZT–The Poet and the Visionary = SCHUMANN: Arabeske in C Major; Widmung (arr. Liszt); Sonata in G Minor; LISZT: Harmonies du Soir; Saint Francis of Assisi Sermon of the Birds; Ballade No. 2 – Cembal d’amore

by | Jun 27, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Mordecai Shehori plays SCHUMANN and LISZT–The Poet and the Visionary = SCHUMANN: Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18; Widmung (arr. Liszt); Sonata in G Minor, Op. 22; LISZT: Harmonies du Soir; Saint Francis of Assisi’s Sermon of the Birds; Ballade No. 2 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 135, 68:37 ****:

The recital at Alice Tully Hall (8 June 1995), devoted to Schumann and Liszt, featured Mordecai Shehori’s attempting to project the dualisms that pervade these two Romantics’ perspectives of the artist and his response to worlds both natural and interior. Shehori opens with the popular Arabeske in C of Schumann, played with a devout, subdued gentility, so perhaps Eusebius holds forth, nostalgic for the dream-quest of youth and hope. Shehori, however, is not shy to expose the detached, jarring chords that infiltrate that idyllic surface. The Schumann penchant for march-ballade (maerchen) reveals itself, only to succumb to the composer’s “persistence of vision.” Widmung (Dedication) remains one of the glories of vocalized keyboard transcription, and here Shehori can exult in colors, almost an evocation of Watteau or Monet’s lilies. Liszt called the song “Liebeslied,” and the passions of the love-song sigh and sweep us along the piano’s full instrumental panoply. The bold chords at the end resound with an allusion to Schubert’s Ave Maria.

The G Minor Sonata (1830-1838) Shehori presents with its original last movement, the Presto passionate the composer ill-advisedly discarded as too difficult for Philistine ears and fingers. The opening movement rants and raves in bold gestures, the fevers from E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean-Paul Richter’s Kreisler. Much of the writing resembles chromatic etudes, often moto perpetuos and ostinati within whose counterpoint a fierce resolve rises, nodding to Paganini and Beethoven. Wistful and a tad manic, the Andantino waxes close to the inner world of Schlegel and Eichendorff, the former whose poetry influenced the Brahms F Minor Sonata, Op. 5. A bristling Scherzo reminds us of the knotty passages in the Novellettes or the Vienna Carnival-Jest. Shehori manages both bravura and pearly play in the insistent Finale, its syncopes and outbursts proceeding in heady pulsation that gallops in faint hints at the Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 and the ubiquitous Carnaval, Op. 9.

Liszt makes his first appearance as a composer of mystical nocturnes, the Harmonies du Soir from the Transcendental Etudes (No. 11), whose repetitive, chromatic chords and pregnant fermatae progress in diaphanous layers and parlando meditation to an ecstatic, erotic vision. The incremental phrases gather a fabulous momentum, insisting on Heaven. We can hear echoes the Vallee d’Obermann in the fierce, repeated notes and tremolandi, the pounding at the doors of Paradise by an ardent sinner. Whether the St. Francis Legend invokes birds or water-colors at its outset is anyone’s guess, since the pantheistic aesthetic of the piece approaches the techniques we hear in the Jeux d’eau a la Villa D’Este.  Shehori projects a clean, piercing upper register, the twittering and peals from the avian flock intently concentrated on their inspired pastor, who speaks in recitative.  A blissful vision ensues, likely God Himself, rising from the waves in a Botticelli moment. The spiritual and the erotic fuse in a most suggestive series of chordal progressions, and Shehori’s Steinway sounds like an organ: the twitterings walking on water or borne into the aether, the effect is the same. We can hear wherein Franck derived much of his own sound-world.

Last, Shehori descends into Stygian night for the Ballade No. 2 in B Minor (1854), a keyboard companion to the Dante Sonata and the Dante Symphony. Another instrumental response to Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, likely, the piece explores passions high and low, ecstasies of pain and erotic, visionary bliss in F-sharp Major. A martial element plays like a Hungarian Rhapsody, but the figures hammer us into huge crevasses of despair. Carillon-like chords transport us away from earthly concerns, these rendered plastic and mesmeric by Shehori. As hints of Liszt’s own Funerailles impose the gloom once more, the battleground of the spirit takes on Miltonic proportions. The last page gives us divine consolation; at least the chromatic rhetoric, virtually Wagnerian, allows Shehori to convince us that he and Liszt have been to the Mountain.

–Gary Lemco

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