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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Love and the Devil
Mordecai SHEHORI plays Franz Liszt - Volume One

Cantique d’amour S173 (1845-52)
Scherzo and March S177 (1851)
Gretchen (from A Faust Symphony Second Movement) S513 (1851)
Gretchen am Spinnrade (after Schubert) S558 (1837-38)
Ständchen von Shakespeare (after Schubert) S558 (1837-38)
Réminiscences de Don Juan (after Mozart) S418 (1841)
Mephisto Waltz No 1 S514 (1856-60)
Mordecai Shehori (piano)
Recorded 2002
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD 116 [73.29]


‘Love and the Devil’ is aptly titled. From the delicacy of Cantique d’amour, the occasional grotesqueries of the Scherzo and March, the charming pliancy of Gretchen and the devilish demands of the Réminiscences de Don Juan this is assuredly a test of fingers, sinew and, not least, lyrical affiliations. Shehori is, in any case, formidably well equipped when it comes to this literature as he has elsewhere displayed on the Cembal d’Amour label. And when it comes to Liszt he takes on something of the leonine drive of pianists of the Golden Age. Which is not to imply a lack of sensitivity – far from it – because the recital starts with the Cantique d’amour, the final number in the set of Poetic and Religious Harmonies – typically most pianists will prefer the seventh of the set, Funérailles, or maybe the third, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude. So it’s doubly good that Shehori has the courage to begin with the romantic tracery of this piece, which, in his hands, doesn’t exclude some expressive power either. The Scherzo and March which follows, in complete contradistinction, is a twelve-minute tour de force of dramatic fissures; the fugal episode embedded in the strata of this amazingly vivid and occasionally problematic work gets more and more hot house in this performance. Thunderous bass lines leap from the page and in the March the rapping bass and Shehori’s commensurately hardened tone build up a veritable head of steam – though he remains alert to the dynamic implications here despite the temptation to pile drive.

Gretchen, the arrangement of the second movement from the Faust Symphony, is not as popular discographically as I’d have expected. Shehori is sensitive and pliant here – and has a spatial awareness that maintains intensity over a seventeen-minute span, not an easy thing to accomplish in this work. The only problem is a mechanical noise – because the recording is made at quite a low level it’s intermittently audible, and I assume it’s the piano’s action. The Liszt-Schubert Gretchen is properly drama-laced and elevated, and Ständchen is full of the kind of panache that reminded me of Simon Barere, as, indeed did the Don Juan which contains some formidable surmounting of technical minefields and plenty of rhythmic and structural acuity. The recital ends with the warhorse Mephisto Waltz, laced with colouristic drama.

Drama, indeed, and drive animate this recital but so too does sensitivity and shading. Apart from the mechanical disturbance in Gretchen the sound is pleasing and Shehori’s own notes enthusiastically to the point.

Jonathan Woolf

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