Mordecai Shehori: The Celebrated New York Concerts, Vol.  13 = J.S. Bach: Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in d minor, BWV 974 (after Marcello); MOZART: Andante in F Major for Mechanical Organ, K. 616; Adagio in b minor, K. 540; Rondo in D Major, K. 485; BEETHOVEN: Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2; CHOPIN (arr. Liszt): 6 Chants Polonais, Op. 74 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 190, 65:03 [] ****:

Another fine addition to the legacy of New York recitals by Shehori, this offers a potent collection of four essential composers.

The concert of 19 June 1991 from Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall opens with Bach’s arrangement of the Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello, whose Adagio movement has had an independent life of its own. Hearing the entire “concerto” allows us to enjoy the full context of Bach’s treatment, here in graceful tones—from the very first Allegro—that often sound like limpid, ornamental figurations we hear in Rameau. The slow movement, clear and intimately wrought, extends a flowing cantilena—over a pensive bass—in the arioso manner Bach utilizes in his own f minor Concerto, BWV 1056. The Presto exudes an easy, fluent series of scalar passages in light colors. The movement, taken alone, could easily have served Scarlatti as a binary sonata. Shehori varies his dynamics just enough to add a bit of fervent drama to the proceedings, ending with a decisive peroration.

A Mozart group follows, beginning with a late Andante in F, K. 626 (1791), composed for mechanical organ. Rather monothematic, the piece enjoys a playful treatment that would likely have engaged the glass harmonica in Mozart’s time, another instrument that permitted his fertile imagination access to beguiling colors. On a different emotional plane, the 1788 B Minor Adagio, K. 540, a dark piece that fascinated Vladimir Horowitz. Shifts in dynamics and register invest the work with a drama likely taken from the influence of C.P.E. Bach. The sudden interjections of dark emotion might remind some listeners of the highly personal chromatics in Gesualdo. Rather acquiescent of its tragic mood, the binary-structured work does end in B Major, which to some indicates the slow movement meant to find its way into a sonata, possibly in e minor.  The fluent Rondo in D, K. 485 (1786) is a product of the same time period that gives us The Marriage of Figaro.  The “Bach influence” here comes from J.C. Bach, since the rondo tune is his. The surprise lies in the fact that this “rondo” turns out to be a compressed sonata movement of some wit and power.  The brilliant runs and cascades lead us a merry chase into a minor and A Major, with rhythmic impulses—in “Scotch snaps”—that resemble Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Shehori invests the last page with nuance and color, rather scampering to a coda based on the opening motif of the rondo.

Beethoven’s 1795 Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2 constitutes the middle of a triptych of large pieces dedicated to Haydn, each of which pays homage to and transcends that master. Beethoven likes to tease us with his changes of key and suspension of resolutions, so as to expand the limits of conventional sonata-form procedure. Shehori captures the solemn playfulness of the opening Allegro vivace,  which moves from its ostensive tonic major into e minor, G Major, and C Major. Big gestures occur in block chords, which often as not lead us away from our cadences of expectation. The slow Largo – appassionato assumes an austere demeanor, a plaintive, lyrical song of lament, taken from an earlier Piano Quartet, WoO 6, No. 3. As in Mozart, we become enchanted with Shehori’s trill, as well as with the staid, pizzicato chords in the bass line. In the last pages, the resolve of the progression becomes dire and tragic, at least momentarily, until the last page, in which some conciliatory figures appear.

The Scherzo-Allegretto proves a light hearted affair, cut from basically one melodic cloth. The Trio section, in A minor, has the quality of an etude or bagatelle that capitalizes on voice-layering. The Rondo-Grazioso directly issues from Haydn in its combination of rondo-variation form. Shehori imbues the upward-swinging scalar pattern with arioso flavor; then the music assumes a militant cast. The right hand has a quasi-cadenza period as a transition to the dominant, while the agitated modulations take us to A minor once more, threatening to conclude amid dark clouds, only to swing into the major mode with a sly charm that bodes much of what is to come from this Bonn composer.

Shehori closes with the Six Chants Polonais (1828-1845) by Frederic Chopin, seventeen songs collected posthumously and  subsequently edited for keyboard solo by Franz Liszt, who dedicated the set to Princess Carolyne von Sayne-Wittgenstein. Each of the songs derives from a Polish ballad; and the first, “The Maiden’s Wish,” deals with beauty and amorous flirtation, and therefore the florid writing often carries a mazurka rhythm that contains an erotic element. The second piece, “Fruehling,” sings a pure but repetitious melody that embraces, ironically, death as its subject.  A vernal meadow reminds the speaker of a lost love, a subject just as suited to Mahler. “The Silver Ring” has a macabre text, in which a narrator notices a ring he had given to his betrothed still ornaments her finger, though she has married another man. The music, however, retains a cool detachment. The Bacchanal provides Shehori a stomping-dance of sumptuous power, rife with glissandi and potent block chords. Jovial but eminently earthy, the music pounds us into Dionysian submission. Love’s infatuation consumes the pages of “My Joys,” a Lisztian tone-poem of ardent attraction and pulsating restraint, the longest of the set and the most ecstatic. Shehori conveys its excited and luminous affect in the true Lisztian rhetoric, yearning and languid, at once.  “The Ride Homeward” or “The Dead Knight of the Forest” proffers a brief but anguished drama of a man’s forging through snow to meet, sadly, a dead lover. The music so resembles the last movement of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Sonata that one could stand in for the other it terms of emotional cruelty.

—Gary Lemco