Classical Reissue Reviews

Leonard Shure in Concert at Jordan Hall = CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2; Ballade No. 1; Prelude No. 23 in F Major; Prelude No. 24 in D Minor; BRAHMS: Phantasien; SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major – Leonard Shure, piano – Bridge

An assemblage of performances culled from Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, 1977-1980.

Published on September 24, 2012

Leonard Shure in Concert at Jordan Hall = CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2; Ballade No. 1; Prelude No. 23 in F Major; Prelude No. 24 in D Minor; BRAHMS: Phantasien; SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major – Leonard Shure, piano – Bridge

Leonard Shure in Concert at Jordan Hall = CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23; Prelude No. 23 in F Major; Prelude No. 24 in D Minor; BRAHMS: Phantasien, Op. 116; SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 – Leonard Shure, piano – Bridge 9374A/B (2 CDs) TT: 138:11 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

An assemblage of performances culled from Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, 1977-1980, features veteran pianist Leonard Shure (1910-1995), noted as Artur Schnabel’s teaching assistant for six years. I met Shure in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 1980s at the home of one of his pupils, Jody Parrish. His repute as an outstanding pianist and pedagogue well preceded our meeting, and I knew his work on the Audiofon label, By the end of our two-day interview together, Shure presented me with cassettes of his 1946 Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Henri Temianka from the Library of Congress, several of which I transferred for Jacob Harnoy of Doremi, and he eventually secured the entire set now available on that label.

Though I find Shure’s piano tone somewhat thin and percussive in the Chopin B-flat Minor Sonata (3 December 1977), his inner voicing and studied tempos remain compelling. He ignores the repeat for the first movement exposition, rather plunging into its martial griefs with passionate certitude. The Scherzo proves virile, and its second-subject rubato moves in subtle shifts without devolving into maudlin sentiment. The Marche funebre proceeds with a nobly poised ardor, a solemn spacing of the chords and grinding trill that verges on Beethoven. The middle section has been captured at a low level sonically, so its intimacy becomes perhaps exaggerated. The swirling dance of death that forms the Presto finale has Shure tolling knells in the scurrying, demonic filigree, a real miasma that leaves us awestruck.

The most Neapolitan of the four Chopin Ballades, the G Minor (27 October 1979) allows Shure to demonstrate his natural parlando technique as well as his capacity to clarify Chopin’s often wicked counterpoint. While the lyric beauty and dramatic momentum of the piece lie well within Shure’s range and often galloping, emotional purview, his fingers elide some measures and a potent scale in the last page, but the audience has no regrets about the truncated figures. The D Minor Prelude appears as an encore from the 3 December 1977, its relentless bass chords drive with passionate anguish. When its tissue softens for a passing moment, the effect assumes a paroxysm of tormented nostalgia. The last hammer-blow Ds are pure Dante.  The liquid F Major Prelude (25 Aril 1980) glimmers and quivers in a pearly light as elusive as it is plastic.

Shure’s mighty performance of the Schumann C Major Fantasy (3 December 1977) rejoices in its alternately elevated and declamatory rhetoric, its plastic syncopes and whimsical juxtapositions of martial colors and explosively sudden shifts in dynamics. The first movement proves especially expansive, complemented by an alluring piano tone that absorbs Shure’s blistering attacks without suffering ping or smeared harmonics. The vehemence of Shure’s approach to the fairy-tale march second movement occasionally sacrifices the right pitches in the coda, but the massive pendulum that he achieves in the internal rhythm warrants the price of admission; just witness the applause before he can open the last movement. The Schumann approximation of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” of the last movement with Shure basks in velvet pearls that rise to an inevitable poetic conclusion.

Having received an advance copy from Bridge of Shure’s Brahms Fantasien, I programmed its last two pieces, the E Major Intermezzo and D Minor Capriccio on my KZSU radio broadcast that featured my guest, Shure student Gilbert Kalish. Both Kalish and I commented on the inner elasticity of the Brahms phrases and their compressed, polyphonic urgencies under Shure. While I find some harshness in Shure’s tone in the Brahms, I cannot deny his stylistic aptitude in these disturbed and disturbing pieces that look back to Bach and ahead to modernity. Both aggressive and poetic, Shure’s Brahms will find adherents and chiding critics, but the composer’s late spirit remains well-served.

—Gary Lemco




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