Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Chorale Preludes
Komm, Gott, Schpfer!, transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 631; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 1), KiV B27/1 (1898) [2:33]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, transcription for piano (after J. S. Bach, BWV 645; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 2), KiV B27/2 (1898) [4:00]
Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, transcription for piano (after J. S. Bach, BWV 659; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 3), KiV B27/3(1898) [4:17]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen, transcription for piano (after J. S. Bach, BWV 734; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 4), KiV B27/4 (1898) [2:17]
Ich ruf' zu dir, transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 639; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 5), KiV B27/5 (1898)[4:35]
Herr Gott, nun schleu den Himmel auf, transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 617; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 6), KiV B27/6 (1898) [2:36]
Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verdebt (I), transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 637; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 7), KiV B27/7 (1898) [1:48]
Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verdebt (II), transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 705; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 8), KiV B27/8 (1898) [3:41]
In dir ist Freude, transcription for piano (after J. S. Bach, BWV 615; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 9), KiV B27/9 (1898) [2:41]
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, transcription for piano (after J.S. Bach, BWV 665; Ten Chorale Preludes No. 10), KiV B27/10 (1898) [5:48]
Chaconne, transcription for piano in D minor (after J. S. Bach, BWV 1004), KiV B24
(1893) [13:22]
Toccatas, transcriptions for piano in C major (BWV 564; BBGA 7/3), KiV B29 (1899) [17:02]
Mordecai Shehori (piano)
rec, October 2009, Las Vegas, except Chaconne, July 2002, and Toccata, July 2003 NYC
CEMBAL DAMOUR CD 149 [64:46]

This is an unusual disc for two specific reasons. Firstly, it is very rare to find one devoted entirely to the complete Bach-Busoni Chorale Preludes and other transcriptions by Busoni. And second, the pianist Mordecai Shehori, has engaged in something of a wholesale revision of Busonis work in eight specific categories. Shehori outlines them in commendably precise terms, and I ought to draw attention to a few in order to give one an indication of the ramifications of his work.

By using the organ originals as his point of departure Shehori has reversed Busonis arrangements in respect of such things as trills, where Busoni opted for a single hand trill and Bach asked for two hand trills. Or where Busoni altered harmonies, Shehori has re-established the original. The same is true of inverted chords and Busonis avoidance of dissonances, and register alterations as well. So there are quite a number of ramifications that derive from Shehoris interventionist approach to Busonis transcriptions. I sense the point is to re-establish a greater fidelity to Bachs originals, to clear out perceived clutter in Busonis work, and to re-establish proper melodic lines in the face of Busonis occasional promotion of accompanying figures over them. Clarity and also a restatement of Bachs original patterns are clearly of fundamental importance to Shehori, and his work here should, it seems to me, be seen and heard in that light.

His approach is sometimes unusually and intriguingly measured. Wachet auf is played with great tenderness and limpidity. As a result that Busonian incursive left hand is not so abrupt and dramatic as it usually is, and the music emerges instead as a study in piety and gentleness, not as a passionate and outsize drama between the two hands, which all too often it is. Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland has considerable gravity and it too is slow, slower maybe than one is used to, but a function of its gravity is its textual clarity and immediacy. Shehoris lightness of touch and clarity of articulation are perhaps best gauged in Nun freut euch, lieben Christen which is deftly pointed, indeed at points almost frolicsome. Grave, again slower than one might expect but not at all monumental, is how Shehori approaches Ich ruf' zu dir where the salient features are precision, clarity of texture and an emotive state best characterised as withdrawn.

Shehori avoids overplaying these chorale preludes. His approach to Busoni, in view of his own revisions, is not simply textual, because the works do emerge with a definite and sharply defined sense of characterisation. It is less public and showy, more introverted, slower. The pealing gravity of Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verdebt is again predicated on meditative lines, and serves as an interpretative marker of Shehoris approach in general. Similarly he abjures, say, Michelangelis more adamantine approach to the Chaconne. Once again its digital clarity that is paramount, not a gauze or wash of sound, nor indeed the promotion of voicings or sonorities to which Shehori is antipathetic. The sense here is of a directional arc. So too in the case of the Toccata in C major, a powerfully conceived, often gaunt, and triumphant reading.

In view of the uniqueness of this disc, Shehoris own revisions of Busonis transcriptions being of material significance, its a highly personal question as to how one will respond. But there is something intensely intriguing about Shehoris undertaking that has given me repeated occasion to appreciate his deeply held point of view.

Jonathan Woolf