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Jonathan Woolf
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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Etudes, Op.10 (1829-1832)
Op.25 (1832-36)
Nouvelles Etudes (1839) [67:52]
Mordecai Shehori (piano)
rec. November 2011, Las Vegas
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD170 [67:52]

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 are a 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.
Jonathan Woolf