Shehori plays BEETHOVEN, Vol. I: Rondo in G Major; Piano Sonata No. 8 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 21 “Waldstein”; Piano Sonata No. 23 “Appassionata” – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

by | Jan 2, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Shehori plays BEETHOVEN, Vol. I: Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein”; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 164, 74:32 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
In his press release accompanying the Beethoven CD, Mordecai Shehori writes about his arrangement of the familiar three Beethoven sonatas as a group, the performances themselves having been taken from New York and Las Vegas venues:
“I chose them in order to construct a good flowing program with development, continuity as well as contrast. I think that the opening Rondo (very rarely played), so beautiful, is a great opener. It shows a light, delicate and even humoristic [sic] side of Beethoven most of the time not associated with him. Then the C Minor of the Pathetique is tragic and heroic but on a smaller dimension than the closing Appassionata.
“In between them the C minor becomes C Major, and the Waldstein is a true pastoral-nature work. And then the F Minor of the Appassionata explodes, rhyming with the Pathetique but on a much larger dramatic and expressive scale. By the way, in the Pathetique I take the repeat from the beginning (Grave) and not repeating from the Allegro di molto con brio as traditionally most pianist[s] did. The reason is that Beethoven did not indicate the repeat from the Allegro and by repeating the Grave in C Minor then the Grave of the development in G minor has much stronger dramatic impact since the C minor happened twice. It is the basic compositional device of establishing a pattern and then contradicting it.”
From the opening measures of the 1800 G Major Rondo, we hear that beauty of tone and clarity of articulation press themselves as foremost in this intimate rendition (rec. 5 August 2002, New York). The repeated notes and runs add a touch of sonorous mirth to the proceedings. The entire air of the piece suggests Beethoven’s nod to a galant, courtly style of elegance and refinement that we miss all too often in our modern sensibility.
Shehori’s Pathetique enjoys the dramatic lyricism of the moment, the forward progress emotionally poignant but not exaggerated, give its presage of the Tristan motif for Wagner. Shehori makes the figures dance, an impulse too often suppressed in “metaphysical” interpretations. The descending bass scale is taut but not pesant; rather, the repeat  of the Grave section accords the music great emotional weight. Shehori’s concentration of tonal weight, the relative colors of the hands, pays homage to his own guidance under asters Mindru Katz and Vladimir Horowitz. The wonderful cantabile melody of the Largo requires no explication: Shehori sets the five-part rondo as a moment of serenity against two minor-key episodes of wistful nostalgia, each of which subsumes pain into a more synoptic outlook. Shehori’s tempo picks up in the latter half, more andantino. Shehori modulates the dynamics of the Rondo movement so the sforzati become more dramatically pungent, even while the elements utter an exquisite song in the episodes. That the movement absorbs materials from both prior movements testifies to an economy of form that would define the C Minor Piano Concerto and the Fifth Symphony.
I recall having read that the 1804 Waldstein Sonata was Aaron Copland’s preferred of the thirty-two. Easily, the music possesses an immediacy of rhythmic power and melodic charm that beguiles from the outset. Shehori (from Las Vegas, 13 February 2009) urges fluency over percussion, and the Allegro con brio retains the buoyancy and excited fervor that powerful wrist articulation and textural clarity bestow on this virtuoso vehicle. When the filigree does whirl, the effect flirts with a Breughel scene much as do the dance impulses in the Seventh Symphony. The transition to the recapitulation proves particularly rich, if not compelling, and the opening, repeated chords gain thrust even as the dolce elements gain songfulness. Jabbing sforzati and punctuated scales take us the pregnant pause, dolce, to resounding coda.
The Adagio molto in 6/8 moves very slowly in a sacred space, a temenos of angular harmonic motion. As played by Shehori, some of the detached intimate effects anticipate sound clusters of the Second Viennese School. Wonderful chordal treatment begins the Rondo sweetly, pianissimo, but this consoling tune alters its character quickly, the A Minor turbulence from Shehori like the thunderstorm in the Pastoral Symphony. Potent octaves, swirling triplets, rhythmic stretti, all pose no obstacle to the miraculous energy of the evolving dance, in which even the silences gain a palpable, melodic currency, where each musical elements strings Coleridge’s Aeolian harp.
The Appassionata Sonata (1805) bears a strong relationship to the Fifth Symphony, rife with the four-note “fate” motif. Ever since I first heard this piece with Claudio Arrau, it has exerted a singular possession, with its imaginative exploitation of what might pass as “transitional” materials, and its Neapolitan harmonic colors. Shehori (rec. New York 10 September 2001) highlights its broad palette of hues in opposing registers, its explosiveness and contrasts in legato and percussive textures. The deep chiaroscuro that cascades in octaves becomes intensified by the dynamic abyss Beethoven presents, leaping from pp to ff, the tension ever-present, tremolo. After the last detonation and the intense stretti of elements, a key moment occurs late, ppp, a rare indication in Beethoven for a lingering quietude.
The Andante con moto presents a theme and variations, the theme’s tail mimicking its opening rhythmic figures. Shehori projects a linear, rather driven assembly of variants, his pearly play a factor, but more keen to the canonic motions with their tremolo elements in treble and bass. The final variant speeds up the inevitable by omitting the repeats, and the diminished seventh chords leads into a maelstrom, moto perpetuo, Allegro ma non troppo, Presto, of dizzying proportions. Shehori’s bass tones warrant repeated listening. The melodic tissue reigns over the percussive aspect of the drama, rising in register but likewise descending with mounting fury. The murderous sforzandi phrases in the coda prove no obstacle even at Shehori’s manic presto, and the music at last establishes the F Minor triad, a kind of Pyrrhic victory, if your head is still attached.
—Gary Lemco

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