In 1838 François-Joseph Fétis, and Ignaz Moschelès commissioned
twelve leading composer-executants to write one or two etudes
each. The result was the ‘Methode des Methodes’ which Mordecai
Shehori here presents in its entirety, in full numerical order.
The intention was to focus on what each composer believed to
be the ‘most vital elements(s) of refined piano playing’ to
quote Shehori’s own notes on the subject, to which I am indebted,
and the selected musicians represented a roll call of the contemporary
great and good; Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn being just three
but others including Julius Benedict, Sigismond Thalberg, and
still others were famous in their day, but are now very much
less so – Amédée Méreaux, for instance, whose own contribution
Shehori rates as the most profound.
Lest this all be thought mere pianistic antiquarianism, more
dutiful reclamation than genuine musical statement, let me assure
you that this disc teems with interest and palpable frisson.
The concentration on etudes allows one better to appreciate
the imperatives and principal fascinations of the composer-pianists
of the time and their precepts. Shehori notes some; leading
multiple voices coherently, balancing chords, polyrhythmic negotiation,
and articulation control, correct use of the pedal and the cultivation
of a singing tone.
Fortunately Shehori provides his own commentary on each etude,
the better to guide us through their sometimes complex – though
often deceptive – raison d’etre. Moschelès himself contributes
an etude that promotes the substance of a legato melody, as
well as one that calls on the pianist to bind the accompanying
figures seamlessly. Chopin went one better than the other contributors
by contributing three etudes, the Nouvelles Etudes that one
knows so well, though not necessarily the reason for their genesis
or ‘nouvelle’ status. Thalberg’s repeated arpeggios are converted
by Shehori into a true, musical study, as indeed he does with
the Magyarisms of the second. Fluency, fluidity and a true singing
line burnish Mendelssohn’s contribution and its performance,
whereas Liszt’s contribution is the acme of volatility and technical
difficulty. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that Jakob Rosenhain’s
etude was programmed next – as noted, they are presented in
the original ordering here - since it’s a pertly gentle contribution.
Theodor Döhler’s stuttering staccati are built into a richly
difficult legato melody statement in his first etude; Shehori
manages it triumphantly. He also conceals the wicked difficulties
of the second etude with nerveless aplomb.
Similarly he deals with the demands of the Heller and Wolff
etudes with similar technical and expressive control, deals
warmly with the Henselt, is drolly witty in the first Taubert,
and brings rhythmic snap and vitality to the phalanx of repeated
chords of the Benedict. He is right regarding the Méreaux, which
is not only the most expressive setting but also the longest.
This winning undertaking is resilient, eloquent and commanding
both in intent and execution. The recording quality is fine,
the notes splendid indeed, and the animating spirit behind the
venture wholly laudable.