Classical CD Reviews
Shehori plays Russian Music = PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7; GLINKA: The Skylark; BALAKIREV: Islamey–Oriental Fantasy; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Lark; Romance in F Minor; Dumka; Eugene Onegin Paraphrase – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour
Published on September 1, 2009
Shehori plays Russian Music = PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; GLINKA (arr. Balakirev): The Skylark; BALAKIREV: Islamey–Oriental Fantasy; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Lark from Op. 37; Romance in F Minor, Op. 5; Dumka on C Minor, Op. 59; TCHAIKOVSKY-PABST: A Paraphrase after Eugene Onegin, Op. 81 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 143, 65:09 [Distrib. by Qualiton] ****:
Pianist Mordecai Shehori pays homage to his distant Russian roots in this eclectic assemblage, the inscriptions traversing a period 1999-2009. From New York (10 August 2002) we have a poignant, even tender realization of the “wartime” Sonata No. 7 in B-flat (1942) by Prokofiev, too often hammered out in brilliant percussive style to see if the piano will convert to lava. The innate barbarism and manic ostinati remain, but the tone casts a rare inner serenity or resignation where many pianists want only the savagery. Glittery clusters of sound emerge from the dissonances, blisters of light in an otherwise bleak universe. The slow movement begins in E, but its melancholy labyrinths take us far afield. The austere introspection gravitates into chromatic agony, almost a series of bells or carillons that take their cue from Liszt. The arpeggiated filigree recalls moments from Prokofiev’s own G Minor Concerto. The soft lullaby returns, even more wistful than before. The Precipitato, among the great toccatas of 20th Century keyboard writing, has Shehori pouring out B-flats in abundance, the dance jagged and demonic. An acolyte of Vladimir Horowitz, Shehori comes to this sonata naturally, careful to articulate the angular melodic line that passes in and out of the wicked punctuations.
For immediate contrast, the liquid mercies of Glinka’s The Skylark (L‘Alouette)–and Shehori’s liner notes provide the text of Kukolnick’s poem–capture (3 June 2009) the “stream of sound” that pours out of Nature. A long trill cascades in most Lisztian fashion into cadenza dewdrops that fall upon the heart of the beloved, now become a lyre. On the other hand, Tchaikovsky’s March from The Months evokes the fluttery trilling of the bird, with perhaps passing homage to Schumann’s bird of prophecy. The melancholy Romance in F Minor possesses the typical Tchaikovsky yearning and nostalgia for happier times. The plaintive melody nods to Chopin and Schumann, a true song without words. Its middle section, quite animated and heavy with peasant steps–either trepak or polonaise–swells only to yield to balalaika strains of sad recollection. Like Horowitz and Ashkenazy, Shehori finds an ardent ballade in the C Minor Dumka (1886) of Tchaikovsky, which moves from a touching Andantino cantabile to a Con Anima section by way of bristling cadenzas and three-hand effects. Some of the filigree anticipates early Debussy. Excellent syncopated work from Shehori in the Moderato con fuoco section, tempered by two episodes, Andante meno mosso and Adagio, diminuendo.
For the more “Eastern” and exotic aspects of Russian music, we have a grandly spirited Islamey (1869) of Balakirev, a piece much touted by the late Julius Katchen and Gyorgy Cziffra. Here, Shehori (26 August 1999) can unleash his formidable colorist prowess in both the superheated presto passages and in the lovely and shapely Tatar love-song that makes an orchestra of the keyboard. Ranging from seductive chimes to bellowing organ, Shehori’s approach allots the music a slinky charm, woven tapestry that undulates and explodes with promises of fertile memories. The bravura of the last pages quite outdoes itself for the grand style.
Finally, the extended homage to Tchaikovsky by Paul Pabst (1854-1897), a highly vocalized response to themes in Evgeny Onegin that savor the piano’s ability to pair off gliding registers. Except for Odessa-born Shura Cherkassky, few pianists have engaged this mighty evocation of the opera, in which simple diatonic writing competes with thunderous organ fioritura, sweeping into the wonderful waltz in a manner Liszt or Godowsky could admire. Indications like “quasi glissando” and “PP e legatissimo e sempre una corda” pose no obstacles for Shehori’s alternately delicate and thundering depiction of the passions and sehnsucht that assault and define the Russian soul. Astonishing and compelling piano artistry at every moment.
– Gary Lemco