Classical Reissue Reviews

BACH-BUSONI: Ten Chorale-Preludes; Chaconne in D Minor, from BWV 1004; Organ Toccata in C Major, BWV 564 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour

Rarely has the Bach kaleidoscope been confined to and liberated by the keyboard at once.

Published on June 16, 2010

BACH-BUSONI: Ten Chorale-Preludes; Chaconne in D Minor, from BWV 1004; Organ Toccata in C Major, BWV 564 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour

BACH-BUSONI: Ten Chorale-Preludes; Chaconne in D Minor, from BWV 1004; Organ Toccata in C Major, BWV 564 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 149, 64:46 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:



Mordecai Shehori (b. 1946) has conscientiously reinvented the Bach-Busoni tradition by carefully re-instating much of Bach’s original  filigree and harmonization of organ works transcribed by Busoni (1907-1909, the Chorale-Preludes; 1894, the Chaconne) for the modern piano.  Even Bach’s intentional dissonances–as in “Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt”–were often resolved or elided by Busoni’s adjustments, and Shehori has no fears that Bach’s “modernity” will alienate listeners, nor that the reconsidered use of ornaments will violate Bach’s intentions. “Purists,” if such a term has any significance in a tradition so muddied by virtuosity and personal taste, will actually become refreshed by this approach, whose relative “simplicity” restores both intimacy and piety to the transcription medium.

Consider, for example, Shehori’s approach (October, 2009) to the familiar “Wachet auf, ruft us die Stimme” from Cantata 140, in which shifts of register occur early in the melodic design, not in the middle, as Busoni prefers. Slurs and ties are dissolved to preserve the integrity of each melodic line, direct and effective in their passing dissonances and “questions of faith.”  The clarity of line in many of the pieces projects itself forward, as in “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland,” whose sonorities–while romantic in shape and significance by Busoni–often suffer a muddy harmonization. The “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmain” still plays as a hasty toccata in running notes, but the top line and bass line sail in light, as though a patina of dust had been scraped off a Michelangelo chapel portrait.  The most transcendent of the chorale-preludes, “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ,” BWV 639, Shehori slows down to an almost static contemplation and personal communion. No false doubling intrudes upon the chastity of the procession, an introspection to the God within.

We can hear how additional thirds and sixths from Busoni would have made the already intricate texture of “Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf” cumbersome and unnaturally heavy. Shehori plays “In dir ist Freude” from Orgelbuchlein as a partita movement, the staccato figures and turns of which often resemble the Toccata from BWV 564. The last of the set of chorale-preludes is “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland,” BWV 665, here conceived as one of the late preludes in minor from WTC II. The organ pedal-points lift us gradually but ineluctably to an identification with Christ’s passion. Several of the scale patterns–here adjusted in timbre and texture to their natural, albeit dissonant context–remind us of the E minor Toccata, while the bell tones announce the advent of our common salvation.

The Chaconne ( 14 July 2002) allows Shehori to redefine its long heraldic lines, often in smooth legato polyphony, as well as brilliant, pointed filigree we associate with the Partita in B-flat Major. The swells in the line achieve a grand organ sonority that is lush without heaviness or pedantry, but a lucid and extravagantly resonant transposition of the violin’s fioritura and bariolage effects without mannerism. The extended curvature of the arch Shehori retains often muted and varied tones, a palette of many voices–some quite suffused with humor–and often contrary effects. Even the double octaves do not suffer unnecessary fortes that would distort their character, leading to a conclusion both satisfying and musically inevitable.
 
A true disciple of his mentor Horowitz, Shehori take on the massive Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major (rec. 4 July 2003) we all recall from the Horowitz “Historic Return” in 1965. The improvisatory nature of the opening Preludio revels in its chromatic furies until it breaks out, semplice, in a pure statement of exalted vision. Despite the thickness of the harmonization, the line retains elasticity and expressive power, the shifting registers  competing for sonic dominance. Again, the intimacy of address often focuses our piety more than any thunders from Busoni via Liszt. The songfulness of the Intermezzo reigns, given the chromatic hew of the line and its pungent cadences, the soprano freed of all earthly impediments. A brief but tormented cadenza and agonized parlando in passing dissonances takes us to the dazzling Fuga. Here, Shehori applies the light hand, the figures bouncing, jostling, and resonating from diverse choirs and registrations in panoramic display. The volcanic aspects often turn inward, the crispness and mania of the figures ecstatic and aerial in their diverse curlicues and sweet whisperings. Rarely has the Bach kaleidoscope been confined to and liberated by the keyboard at once.

–Gary Lemco





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