Mordecai Shehori plays Fantasies = Piano works of BEETHOVEN, SCHUMANN, CHOPIN – Cembal d’amour

Mordecai Shehori plays Fantasies = BEETHOVEN: Fantasia in g minor, Op. 77; SCHUMANN: Fantasia in C Major, Op. 17; CHOPIN: Fantasy in f minor, Op. 49;  Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat Major, Op. 61 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour  CD 182, 62:41 (2/7/16) [www.cembaldamour.com] ****:

Beethoven and Schumann works allowing Shehori to improvise within restricted borders.

Recorded 22-24 August 2009, this compilation of keyboard fantasies rather unleashes Mordecai Shehori in repertory that allows him – in accord with the colossal demands of the composers – to “improvise” within restricted borders. Shehori opens with Beethoven’s 1808 anomaly, his Fantasia in g minor, whose own designation belies its impatience for that starting point and gravitates to B Major.  In a series of expanding musical periods, Beethoven “settles” for a group of seven variations in B Major, with a kind of germ theme in an adagio section. Besides the explosive and impetuous aspects of the work, Shehori reveals that the fermatas prove just as dramatically potent.

The Schumann 1836 Fantasy in C Major – dedicated to Franz Liszt – has its roots in the city of Bonn, which wished to erect a monument to their esteemed musical son.  Schumann spliced his devotion to Beethoven to his extended passion for Clara Wieck, and so the Beethoven final song from An die ferne Geliebte became a motto for Schumann’s Romantic ardor.  Though Shehori provides no program notes, he does cite Schumann’s incorporation of a verse from Friedrich Schlegel that alludes to a secret-sounding note that resonates through the earth to the ear of an elected listener. The scale of Shehori’s Fantasie remains impressive: huge periods in the opening movement pour forth in C Major, then break off into a “literary” section in c minor, “in the style of a legend.” Everywhere, Shehori makes illustrious tone while synthesizing the work’s often interior polyphony. The second movement presents a resolute march in E-flat Major, Beethoven’s preferred “heroic” key. Something of the Carnaval’s “dancing letters” ensues, as the music gallops and cavorts in order to rise to a new series of ecstasies. The last movement could pay homage to Beethoven’s own Sonata quasi fantasia, “Moonlight,” with its huge nocturne in C Major that proffers a section of “blissful rapture” in A-flat Major.  Shehori evolves the whole as a transcendent arch, much in the spirit in which Schumann conceived it.

The basis of Chopin’s 1841 Fantasy in f minor lies in an allusion to a revolutionary song, Litwinka, which even Richard Wagner knew and utilized for his own Polonia Overture.  Shehori basks in the opening march of this concentrated national epic, a heroic song that finds the spirit of resistance to tyranny alive and well in Poland.  The intricately minute adjustments Shehori makes will differ significantly from others’ readings: Shehori’s real legacy will endure in his forcing musicians to examine the details of the score more minutely, despite traditional, “great” readings.  Both the Fantasy and the 1846 Polonaise-Fantasy, in their sectionalized structure, challenge the performer to maintain a singing continuity of progression.  In the former, the harmonic meandering will take us from f minor to its most distant mode in B Major.  But the spiritual journey must travel from tragic awareness to resolved affirmation.  The intimate softness of Shehori’s palette proves as remarkable as his militant declamations.

The Polonaise-Fantasy challenged even Chopin’s sense of form, his referring to it as “something else I don’t even know how to name.”  The upbeat-laden opening impulse undergoes an infinite series of permutations, including a guitar impulse that occasionally suggests a nocturne or serenade.  Canny pedaling from Shehori in both fantasies softens the militant energies.  The applied moments of tempo rubato likewise add a subtle dramatic energy in salon quanta. The assorted trills, embellishments and octave triplets the piece demands bequeath a bravura aspect to a highly idiosyncratic, lyrical experience. Ever instructive as well as musical, Shehori stands an artist apart from the “pure” virtuosos whose fingers too often rely on effects.

—Gary Lemco

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