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Dances and Visions
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Suite de Pièces (c. 1660): Air tender [2:25]: Courante [2:02]: Allemande [4:38]: Sarabande [1:55]: Gigue [2:38]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images Book 1: Rêflets dans l’eau (1905) [5:33]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Bolero in A minor, Op.19 (1833) [9:07]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Etude-Tableau in A minor, Op.39 No.6 (1916-17) [3:18]
Etude-Tableau in D minor, Op.39 No.6 (1916-17) [5:22]
Prelude in G major, Op.32 No.5 [3:56]
Prelude in C minor, Op.23 No.7 [3:08]
Daisies, in F major, Op.38 No.3 (1916, transcr. piano pub 1940) [2:58]
Etude-Tableau in D major, Op.39 No.9 (1916-17) [4:32]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre, in G minor, Op.40 (1874 transcr.S555 (1876) by Franz LISZT (1811-1886) arr. Vladimir Horowitz [12:03]
Mordecai Shehori (piano)
rec. January 2014, Las Vegas
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD173 [63:42]

Shura Cherkassky took a shine to Lully’s little Suite de Pièces, and would periodically programme them in concert, often changing ordering or omitting some of the established pieces. Mordecai Shehori has clearly taken a shine to them too because he plays them with disarming sensitivity, bringing the wistful Air to life and through speed, but also clarity, vests the Courante with vitality. Note, too, the fine bass pointing. He takes the Allemande with elegance at a good tempo, employing apt dynamic variance, and he saves a degree of triumphalism for the concluding Gigue, crisp in the bass, bright and light in the treble.
 
The album’s loose concept is ‘Dances and Visions’ and it continues with Debussy’s Rêflets dans l’eau, thoughtfully played, and which cleaves somewhat closer to Gieseking’s aesthetic than to the more direct clarity of Daniel Ericourt. Chopin’s Bolero follows, a piece played and recorded by Arthur Rubinstein but even more dramatically so by Emil von Sauer. Shehori prefers a less coruscating tempo, concentrating on the elegance and refinement in the music as well as its terpsichorean qualities. There then follows a Rachmaninoff sequence; Etudes-Tableaux, Preludes, and Daisies. He plays them, in the main, at a very studied kind of tempo, abjuring all blandishments to unleash a volley of virtuosic drama. From Ashkenazy to Horowitz many pianists have chosen a more incisive route, so Shehori’s approach is interesting. It may or may not convince. The Etude-Tableaux in D minor, Op.39 No.8 is therefore more wistful in places than one usually encounters; rich in colour but not in rhythmic bite. The youthful urgency of Ashkenazy’s recording is replaced here by a more reflective take. If one contrasts the performance of the Prelude in C minor by Ashkenazy (1974-75) and Earl Wild (in 1993, on Ivory Classics) one finds a very different approach to the questions of virtuosity and speed when listening to Shehori. It is almost as if a gravitas has been imposed on the selected pieces that they struggle to bear. Lightness and kinetic brilliance are absent.
 
The final piece is the much hyphenated Saint-Saëns-Liszt-Horowitz Danse Macabre, a tour de force glistening with technical corner-turning, fugato-starting and ceaseless drama. Yet again, though, Shehori is reluctant to forge ahead, taking a full twelve minutes over it, considerably longer than most performers, including Horowitz himself in his Duo-Art 1928 roll recording.
 
This reinforces the underlying perception that there is something at work here that shies away from volatile directness and prefers instead a more considered, almost resigned perspective. That lends the Rachmaninoff segment in particular a strange, unfamiliar, almost allusive quality. The unsympathetic would call it devitalised. Shehori is not an unexciting pianist so this is clearly deliberate but it is puzzling, nonetheless.
 
Jonathan Woolf