Shehori plays LISZT, Vol. 2 = Impromptu in F-sharp Major; Au Bord d’une Source in A-flat Major; Vallee d’Obermann; Les Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este; Canzone “Nessun maggior dolore”; Funerailles; Three Petrarch Sonnets – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 162, 76:37 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
Subtitled “On Nature’s Beauty and Man’s Torment,” this second volume of Liszt masterpieces by Mordecai Shehori provides in the liner notes those quotations from literary sources inspiring the composer’s idiosyncratic response, his combination of Romantic rhetoric and ecstasies. The fioritura devoted to personal expression in the pieces, several of which derive from the sets of Annees de pelerinage, glisten with water effects we immediately associate with the Impressionists.
The opening Impromptu at first suggests a Liszt mediation on Chopin’s own G Major Andante spianato, but it soon wanders along its own paths. Shehori plays an extended-coda version (1863) of the Au Bord d’une Source, a liquid dainty dedicated to student Giovanni Sgambati whose literary equivalent Shehori ascribes to lines from Schiller. Oddly, Shehori cites Byron rather than Senancourt for the massive ballade-meditation Vallee d’Obermann, whose bass tones Liszt juxtaposes against the most lucid of detached treble chords. Here, among the lulling and defiant harmonies, Shehori has entered a formidable garden once traversed by Horowitz, Berman, Arrau, and Lowenthal. When Shehori at last executes the main theme legato, the gods themselves must give pause and weep. Byron ought to inform the fabulous Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’este, in which the poet wishes to forsake “Earth’s troubled waters for a purer spring.” That Liszt may have invoked Saint John (4,14) and his “waters of eternal life” no less illuminates the blazing garden of fountains and rills that replace flowers in this Arcadian paradise. The music of Debussy seems imminent, the harmonies lustrous and passionate. The relatively brief Canzone Shehori tells us owes its affect to Rossini’s opera Otello, but the quote: “There is no greater pain, remembering happier events in times of misery,” has its “ultimate” source in Dante, in the very words of Francesca da Rimini. The bass tremolandi resonate in bleak harmony, the melodic line fragmentary and rife with life’s whirlwinds.
The 1849 Funerailles may reign as Liszt’s most warlike piece, a bitter meditation from the Harmonies poetiques et religieuses in honor of the crushed souls of the 1848 Hungarian Revolt suppressed by the Hapsburgs. Commentators remain quick to note the left-hand octaves later in the piece bear a striking resemblance to the “Heroic” Polonaise of Chopin, who himself died 17 October 1849. Shehori manages to exalt each of the four sections of the piece without losing the thread of morbid nobility, anguished wistfulness, and militant ferocity that provides only a passing consolation for fallen heroes. The sonnets of the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca sing of unattainable, blissful love, a sentiment Michelangelo, Wordsworth, and Goethe find attractive to express in the form. The conceit of No. 47 has the poet bleeding lyrics, a kind of Saint Sebastian pierced by the arrows of both eros and agape. Impulsive and ecstatic, the Sonnet 104 combines all the paradoxes of love in extremes of fire and ice. The final sonnet-nocturne from the triptych 123 reads like an invocation from Demeter on the loss of her lovely daughter, Persephone. The 1859 opera Faust by Charles Gounod naturally attracted Liszt to its Mephistophelean possibilities, especially the aria “O nuit d’amour” from Act II. Scintillating runs, florid trills, and glissandi abound in this grand waltz, along with any number of block chords in both hands. But when the music catches its breath, a tender love song emerges, neither ostentatious nor harsh. The close piano sound conveys the intimacy Liszt combines in uncanny harmony with his flamboyant bravura.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich