Shehori plays MOZART = Fantasie in C Minor, K. 396; Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; Fantasie in C Minor, K. 475; Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 570; Sonata in C Minor, K. 457 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour

by | Jul 19, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Shehori plays MOZART = Fantasie in C Minor, K. 396; Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; Fantasie in C Minor, K. 475; Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 570; Sonata in C Minor, K. 457 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 141, 69:22 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Pianist-producer Mordecai Shehori (b. 1946) “deconstructs” the so-called “authenticity” movement in Mozart by having consulted the Urtext editions of Mozart’s keyboard works, in order to remove a sedimented crust of bad habits that have accrued in Mozart performance practice over the years: to wit, the random, arbitrary addition of staccato indications intended to make Mozart’s sound more “brittle” and indicative of the fortepiano available to Mozart. Having consulted, in considerable depth and detail, Mozart’s original intentions, Shehori means to reveal the “singer” in Mozart, the composer’s use of legato and bel canto techniques that raise the percussive capacities of the instrument to something “higher”: a virile, flexible, and expressively vocal instrument that would provide without the human voice exactly what his directly operatic ouevre would accomplish dramatically. In short, Mozart’s meticulous care as to dynamic markings can never be replaced by the “whims” of any performer or “school of thought,” since it would be an act of hubris to second-guess Mozart’s ability to judge his own sound concepts.

Shehori (rec. January 2009) opens with the empfindsamkeit Fantasie in C Minor, as completed by Maximilian Stadler from fragments of sonata-movements for violin and piano. The intense attention to dynamic balances makes itself plain from the opening bars, the delicacy of adjusting legato and portato indications. The piano sonority itself moves from thickly “orchestrated” chords and arpeggiations to a music-box sensibility, but the sensuality of the line could emanate from Liszt just as easily. No note rings as enervated or “feminine.” The broken style of the piece, its debt to C.P.E. Bach and his kin, provides a dramatic framework for a series of dark broodings and mercurial cascades. The Rondo in A Minor, one of the world’s few “slow” rondos, presages much of Chopin, especially when played with a sultry rubato and attention to distinct voicing that Shehori provides. The attention to color detail no less affects the relative tempo of the piece, since Shehori’s adjustments influence the harmonic-rhythm as the vertical counterpoint assumes variegated weights. If any piece in Chopin can be said to relate to Shehori’s radically precise approach, it would be the D-flat Berceuse, the very instantiation of tonal and dynamic compression.

The grand Fantasie in C Minor, K. 475 rings the most familiar, and Shehori’s performance seems entirely at ease in the Viennese tradition of Lily Kraus and Anton Kuerti. While still applying the same precision of tonal and agogic detail, the inner flow and eminently vocal quality of the line remains lightly coloratura, flamboyant but capable of fine delicate shades of temperament. Even the aggressive, “melodramatic” impulses in the piece do not gain an unshapely weight or thickness. The cadenza runs already look ahead to Beethoven. Fluent, liquid, and pointedly lyric in all parts, the Fantasie moves through its various mercurial episodes with a ravishing patina, its four-note prescience for Beethoven’s Appassionata soon entering its own harmonic labyrinth of the opening pages, the emotional odyssey having come full circle.

The so-called “Trumpet” Sonata in B-flat Major all but declares itself an undiscovered sonata by Schubert, except the materials are so brilliant and vocally eloquent. Shehori invests the opening Allegro with an improvisatory affect, the music alternately cantering and singing to itself, the birdlike runs in the high registers the very envy of Messaien. Flurries as well as cantilena passages enjoy an exquisite, chiseled balance. The wonderful coloration of the extensive Adagio had my imagination running to the Op. 78 of Beethoven for comparisons. The impish Allegretto, with its passing non-harmonic notes and sforzati, carries as much virtuosity in its swift mezzo-fortes as all the clamors of the likes of Alkan.  

The C Minor Sonata has rarely sounded so “classical,” given Shehori’s tight constraints on its natural chromatics and knotty metrics. Sometimes breathless, but not formless, the dark plastic incursions into emotionally exotic places remind us of how (harmonically) daring and audacious–in F Minor and G Minor–Mozart can be. The entire invention seems akin to Don Giovanni, a dramma giocoso. Clearly, the Adagio in E-flat Major, with its expansive rondo form, elicits from Shehori an especial devotion, for even the repeated notes enjoy nuances of tone pressure, colored chords that presage Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata slow movement by some fifteen years. The last movement, a combination of sonata-rondo, indicates what Shehori might accomplish in Haydn sonatas. The long opening subject already conveys myriad affects, finally moving to E-flat but interrupted by the four-note motif that made Beethoven a household name. Shehori’s patina assumes a harder edge for the last two minutes, Mozart’s shedding anything like his “civilized,” predictable persona.

The alto and tenor voices of Mr. Shehori’s Steinway produce some beguiling colors, even in traditional Alberti bass figures: no wonder, then, the entire album finds its dedicatee in the late Bidu Sayao (1902-1999), perhaps the most tonally delicate lyric soprano of her generation.

–Gary Lemco

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