Classical CD Reviews

Mordecai Shehori plays CHOPIN, Vol. 2 = The Four Ballades; other works – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

A musical descendant of both Mindru Katz and Vladimir Horowitz, Shehori comes to Chopin with a strong sense of literally-dramatic tradition.

Published on September 4, 2011

Mordecai Shehori plays CHOPIN, Vol. 2 = The Four Ballades; other works – Mordecai Shehori, p. – Cembal d’amour

Mordecai Shehori plays CHOPIN, Vol. 2 = The Four Ballades; Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54; Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 22 – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 160, 62:49 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Pianist-producer Mordecai Shehori extends his recorded legacy with the Four Ballades, recorded 6-9 April 2011. A musical descendant of both Mindru Katz and Vladimir Horowitz, Shehori comes to Chopin with a strong sense of literally-dramatic tradition. Shehori states his “programmatic” approach directly, insisting that “one must dismiss the dry academic research that claims that there is no relationship between poetry and music in these [Ballades].“

The G Minor Ballade (1835) rings with Neapolitan power. This, the first of the four Chopin Ballades, presents what Schumann referred to as “the most spirited, most daring work” of Chopin’s early compositions. Chopin also told Schumann, that he had been “incited to the creation of the Ballades” by the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, in the G Minor particularly “Konrad Wallenrod.” Shehori projects the 4/4 Largo with cautionary grace, the chords modulating to the repetitive, questioning D Minor subject. The lovely theme in E-flat Major floats in a bel canto bath of sweet harmony. The development Shehori hues with aggression and regret at once, the inner pulse driving us forward–sometimes with polyphonic vehemence–in a manner suggestive of sonata-form imbued by selective variation. The stretti and glissando passages pile and run in liquid fire to the closing cascading octaves.

The F Major Ballade (1839) takes its cue from the Mickiewicz poem “The Pilgrim” or “The Switez,” a glassy lake by a besieged castle. Maidens in the form of water lilies resist the Russian hordes who attack the fortress; they beg to be destroyed by violent waves than face ravishment by the invaders. Bucolic F Major confronts tumultuous A Minor in this dramatic piece. The thickness of the writing, its employment of single and double trills, can daunt any accomplished player. Shehori negotiates its combination of lyrical utterance and passionate maelstrom with a fine finesse, often recalling to this auditor the glory days of Robert Casadesus.

The A-flat Major, Op. 47 (1841) bears the title “Ondine,” a destructive water nymph. The opening statement moves or glides through three registers. The spirit of the salon dance imbues this spirited work, and its rocking motif proves hypnotically elegant. The shift to C-sharp Minor introduces a decidedly darker tone to the piece, the fioritura and glitter of the salon dispelled in emotional agitation. Though the original material  returns in abridged form, the stormy undercurrent pervades even the triumphal coda. Shehori often makes the work assume something of Schumann’s three-hand effects, polyphony overwhelming the linear progression. Shehori’s pedaling here warrants close hearing.

A Lithuanian Ballade, “The Three Budrys,” provides the drama for the F Minor Ballade, Op. 52 (1843). Shehori adds a subtle rubato to the Slavonic main theme, the lilt hovering between mazurka and waltz that evolve in curlicue variation. Repeated G-flats soon pass us into B-flat Major and temporary peace. Sons of a brooding father have been dispensed to distant lands–and each will eventually return with a bride. Double notes and trills may indicate something of eventual festivity of a long-awaited homecoming. The ritornello appears four times, and when quiet can seem as menacing as it is familiar. The huge canvas allows Shehori any number of color effects, especially the sudden metric shifts and evaporations into pianissimo after grand swells of passion. The stunning climaxes resound with chords we know from the C Minor “Ocean” Etude, Op. 25, No. 12.

The E Major Scherzo (1842) combines a skittish ¾ sonata-form with an improvisatory temperament. Its first five notes prove to be emblematic of the entire piece. The music wants brilliance and colors, not deep rhetorical drama, although it has moments of painful or wistful nostalgia in its C-sharp Minor central section with its lulling accompaniment. Shehori’s expansive approach (rec. 7 July 2003) provides a huge canvas for this occasionally rambling piece, the longest of the Chopin scherzi. The final selection, the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 (1830-1834) combines two distinct pieces, written in reverse order. To the already extant pompously inflated E-flat Major Polonaise Chopin adds a G Major “smooth” Andante in 6/8 with a chordal trio in C Major, ¾. Connoisseurs might trace Shehori’s realization of the piece to the vision offered by Josef Hofmann for his 1938 Metropolitan Opera appearance, the diaphanous qualities’ being so similar. The grand style of the performance certainly provokes our desire to hear Shehori in the E Minor Concerto with an orchestra attuned to his impressive gifts.

—Gary Lemco




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