Shehori Plays Russian Music
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1939-42) [18.24]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857) - Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
The Skylark (L‘Alouette) [6:06]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey - Oriental Fantasy (1869) [9:04]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The March from The Seasons Op.37 [2:02]
Romance in F minor Op.5 [6:08]
Dumka Op.59 [8:33]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) - Pavel PABST (1854-1897)
A Paraphrase after the opera Eugene Onegin [14:59]
Mordecai Shehori (piano)
rec. August 2002, New York (Prokofiev); June 2009, Las Vagas (Glinka-Balakirev, Tchaikovsky); August 1999, New York (Balakirev); February 2009, Las Vegas (Tchaikovsky-Pabst)
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD143 [65:09]

Mordecai Shehori’s Russian album starts the hard way, with a commanding, fluent and utterly authoritative performance of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. One can programme things any way one wants but artists and companies make statements in the way they line up a miscellaneous programme. In this case, we go straight for the emotive jugular, and allow the Old School virtuosity of Islamey and the colouristic charm of the Tchaikovsky triptych to follow.

The bright recording quality suits Shehori’s sense of projection very appropriately. He is a master of the sonata’s quixotic moods, its splenetic moments as well as its more sanguine-melancholic ones. He avoids the assault course mentality prevalent in some circles, and also takes a different and fruitfully divergent approach to that of, say, Richter whose more militant, militaristic vision is powerfully probing in its own right: I’m citing Parnassus PACD 96-001/2, a 1958 recording. Shehori is more intent on exploring the stases and tentative measures inherent in the moment, taking a structurally cohesive, wide-spanning control. The central movement is striking for its reserve and song-without-words quality in its opening paragraphs, and also in the slow build-up to its more chiselled aural profile. The return to the opening feeling is affectingly accomplished. Unleashed and duly replenished, the finale emerges as a pent up outburst of brilliantly alive pianism. It ends a performance of excellence.

Lyric but intensely virtuosic Shehori dispatches The Skylark with an acute ear for the tensions embodied in this vortex pull between emotive states; marvellous theatrical projection without any corresponding fakery. The three Tchaikovsky pieces are examples of refined and indeed refulgent lyric poetry – the Lark (another one) – as well as the more burnished warmth of the Romance in F minor. The last of the three serves in fact as an ‘encore’ to the preceding two; the Dumka, with its sense of rolling tristesse, has ebullience and style but also a melancholic trajectory that Shehori never fails to locate but never objectifies.

Islamey receives a traversal of fiery and evocative concentration, the virtuoso demands co-existing with the alluring colouration that lend the work so formidable a construction. And then there is the far more unusual, discographically rare Tchaikovsky-Pabst Paraphrase after the opera ‘Eugene Onegin’. Laced with refined tracery, delicate trills and also graced by a tumult of virtuoso apparatus, and colour, this work demands the absolute in rhythmic control as much as anything. Shehori brings an immense sense of weight and dynamism to bear and he copes with some of its more unremitting challenges with tremendous eloquence. There’s a noticeable edit along the way: listen from 3:40 on.

In any case the Russian album establishes a repertoire-rich undertaking from Shehori. The recording dates and locations vary – between Las Vegas and New York – but the performance level and values never dip.

Jonathan Woolf