Mordecai Shehori has never been shy about challenging received ideas
but here he really does put the cat among the pigeons. His recording is
based on a study of the fair copy facsimile and analysis of Urtext editions.
Thus what follows is a systematic re-examination, not least with regard to
rhythms, voice-leading, and especially articulation.
From the opening C major of Op.10 one realises that one will be
involved in a reading that brooks no compromise with Shehori’s
intellectually demanding scruples. The ear-catching, unremitting strangeness
of the result - with little rhetorical pushes and pulls and unusual
articulation and emphases - court exhaustion in an unsympathetic listener.
The ensuing A minor is played as a droll comic study, whilst the rubati
Shehori employs rob the E major of its full dramatic and expressive effect.
The F major sounds quite slow - though it isn’t especially - largely
because of Shehori’s determination on clarity of voicings, which
additionally have the effect of somewhat devitalising and imperilling the
structure of the etude.
For whatever reason the A flat major sounds rather choppy, and I
wish he had embraced simplicity in the harp imitations of the E flat major.
Certainly the rather flat studio acoustic is no friend to him, but the
results will be, independent of that, strange to many ears. There is
certainly a degree of didacticism at work here. The accenting of the A minor
in the Op.25 set may well shock, and yet the G sharp minor is splendid. And,
despite occasionally abrupt pedal work in the C sharp minor, it too is
richly imaginative and superbly voiced. The Nouvelles Etudes
touch cool, perhaps. Shehori is belligerent about the need for aristocracy
and grace in Chopin playing, and concern for legato elegance is a corollary
of his playing, but there are certainly times in this performance when such
things don’t always come across.
He is also marvellously rude about pretty well all pianists,
‘living or dead’ as he puts it. He is at pains to point out that
right-hand inner voices in Op.25 No.11 are heard here for the first time -
but how can he possibly know?
Imbued with his typically bracing musicianship - there is no
doubting his technical accomplishment - I found too many of the Etude
performances infiltrated by Shehori’s obsession to project the
trajectory of their veins, rather to the detriment of their skin.