Classical CD Reviews

CHOPIN Vol. I: 19 Waltzes – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour

The Chopin Waltzes--here conceived as an ongoing cycle--and rendered much as the composer intended, virtually for the first time, by the conscientious Mordecai Shehori.

Published on January 5, 2011

CHOPIN Vol. I: 19 Waltzes – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour

CHOPIN Vol. I: 19 Waltzes – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 156, 63:58 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:

Pianist and producer Mordecai Shehori has brushed considerable dust from the pages of the Chopin (fourteen) Waltzes to provide us some subtle and shifting colors the Polish master engrafted into his otherwise Viennese miniatures by way of French and Polish accents. Shehori disowns the traditional numbering system of the nineteen waltzes in order to trace their chronological development as a dance and salon form. Shehori, moreover, adds to the delectation of his palette those decidedly Austrian, Tyrolean elements–specifically yodeling influences–that inform his rhythmic figurations and flourishes. Shehori cites a letter from Chopin (4 September 1830) to his beloved Titus Wojciechowski referring to the appearance of an Alpine troupe of professional yodelers, whose effects can likewise be traceable to figures in Rossini. The E-flat Major Waltz (Brown-Index 46) provides a perfect example of the Alpine element in Chopin; and the agogic accents, too, add a decisive knottiness to the rhythm, often fluctuating towards mazurka metrics. As in many of Chopin’s ostensibly light structures, the left hand motifs prove as contrapuntal as anything in Bach or Baroque music-practice.

Shehori, ever conscientious of the “urtext” or original editions of composers, makes a decided effort to obey Chopin’s carefully annotated markings as regards articulation and note-values. The F Major Valse Brillante, Op. 34, No. 3, for instance, enjoys the correct application of portato in ascending passages but not descending, as written. Notice the brittle staccato approach to the lines in the E-flat Major, Op. 18 Waltz, here realized less as a bravura piece and more in the salon style of the period. Shehori notes that the Julian Fontana versions of four waltzes sought to eliminate the more audacious harmonies and fingerings, so as to cultivate a more conservative audience of gifted amateurs. Shehori incorporates Chopin’s sketches as sources for the last repeat in the A-flat Major, Op. 69, No. 1; the B Minor, Op. 69, No. 2; the G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1; and the F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2. The famous Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2 now played according to the composer’s wishes, suddenly acquires a variegated coloration and subtle rhythmic thrust it has lacked in virtually every prior pianist’s reading. Some deft pedaling renders the Op. 34, No. 1 in A-flat Major an aural pleasure whose own yodeling scales ring with fluent delight. The Op. 34, No. 3 has Shehori’s eliciting some marvelous colors and application of tempo rubato, passing moments in trilled antiphons, quite infectious.

By the time we arrive at the E-flat Major  (Brown-Index 133), Chopin’s individual sense of harmony has evolved to an extraordinarily refined degree. Subtle modalities dally in treble and bass, the one competing with the other for aural dominance. The 2/4 Waltz in A Major by Shehori has something of Josef Hofmann’s old flair, its sudden, mercurial  explosiveness and ritards into liquid vocal melody. Its distinct polyphony sounds daunting under Shehori, but then its innate impish scamper to the final bars dissolves all anxieties. A touch of the tragic infiltrates the F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2. Dark coloration also suffuses the A Minor (Brown-Index 150), a transparently graceful piece that hovers between waltz, mazurka, and nocturne. Its melody spins out in one unbroken song in periods set off by delicate trills. More suave agogics in the A-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3, whose slightly loping gait can careen and sachet in flirting or demure colors, as it wishes. The middle section speaks softly and intricately of Polish national pride.  Finally, the eternally misconstrued or mispronounced “Minute” (meaning “small”) Waltz, once again instilled with new verve and impish dexterity and festive brio. That Chopin intended the Complete Waltzes as a cycle–some beginning with the note that the last ended upon and many sharing the “figuerenlehre” or rhythmic character of the age–becomes a cause celebre in Shehori’s edition, which will likely assume the status of keyboard landmark in musical retrospect.

–Gary Lemco





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