Sunday, March 19, 2017

Israeli pianist Shira Shaked releases her first solo CD - RED

Photo:Jiyang Chen
“RED”, pianist Shira Shaked’s first solo CD covers a lot of ground. Choosing to open with the Fantasia in F sharp minor, H.300, Wq.67 (1787) of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian’s second oldest son (and the most avant-garde of the four composer sons), Shaked challenges the listener to join her in some of the quirkiest keyboard music emerging from the 18th century. Shaked’s reading of this late work engages, first and foremost, in the improvisational character of the piece, re-creating Emanuel’s own style of “Empfindsamkeit”, characterised by eccentric, wild emotionalism, of sudden contrasting moods but also of much sublime melodiousness. Her minimal use of the sustaining pedal serves her well stylistically, as does her careful pacing, as she examines the shape and fibre of each motif. Fast, extravagant passages are well controlled, displaying fine, light finger-work and she presents some with a touch of whimsy. Shaked pays tribute to Bach’s belief in “freedom that eliminates anything slavish”, her playing creating a coherent whole in performance that is highly personal, as would have been the case in C.P.E.Bach’s ruminations on the keyboard.

Shaked’s playing of W.A.Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.13 in B flat major K.333 breathes the charm and grace of this gem, as she reminds the listener of the lightness and beauty inherent in two-part keyboard textures occasionally visited by fuller chords. In presenting its different subjects and profusion of melodies, she addresses the subtlety of contrast present only under the fingers of a sophisticated pianist, never launching into thick, unwieldy textures, as its darker moments emerge from the natural qualities of the minor mode, rather than from agitated expression. And how unique the final movement is in its concerto allegro form, with the pianist playing all roles. Shaked’s playing of the jaunty movement is crisp, her melodies clean; she gives individuality to the diversified elements of the (genuine) cadenza, lingering at its end to make room for the return of the “orchestra” for the bracing closing section. Mozart would have played the work on his 1782 Anton Walter fortepiano. Recording it on a Model D Steinway & Sons piano, Shira Shaked has made an informed effort at evoking the real sound-world of this galant work. 

And to the art of the miniature. For this, Shaked has chosen Alexander Scriabin’s Trois Morceaux opus 45 (1905), written during his six-year sojourn in western Europe - three tiny pieces, the longest of them lasting just over a minute. Shaked engages in the mystery and rapture of these vignettes as well as in the unconventionality balanced with discipline of the idiomatic style of Scriabin’s middle period that straddled tonality and his own gentle move towards atonality. Shaked’s splendidly sculpted playing of the contemplative, bitter-sweet “Feuillet d’Album” (Album Leaf), allowing for just a touch of Romantic sentimentality, is followed by the volatile, unpredictable “Poème Fantastique”, dazzling and roguish, its atonal agenda closing with the surprising gesture of a tonal cadence.  And back to Scriabin’s more contemplative mood and his hyper-refined sensibility, with Shaked’s sympathetic rendering of the wistful “Prelude” richly wrought in sweeping phrases, some of them diminishing upwards into pastel arpeggii.

In April of 1844, Heinrich Heine wrote: ”When I am near Chopin, I quite forget his mastery of piano technique and plunge into the soft abysses of his music, into the mingled pain and delight of his creations, which are as tender as they are profound.” Chopin was 34 years old when he composed his Piano Sonata No.3 in B-minor, op.58. His health was now beginning to decline. The sonata, his last for piano, was written mostly during the summer spent at George Sand’s estate in Nohant, but never played by Chopin in public. In her performance of this masterpiece, Shira Shaked addresses the hallmarks of Chopin’s style. The opening Allegro maestoso is a typical Chopin piano soundscape: we hear its myriad of lyrical melodies, shifting moods and textures flowing at an unrelenting pace, each examined for its shape and content as she orchestrates their Romantic language in playing that is crystal clear.  With nimble, agility, Shaked highlights the elusive, entertaining spirit of the Scherzo, its middle section darker in register and more introspective. The ominous chords opening the Largo give way to some graceful and fragile melodies, to references of Bach’s counterpoint and to personal expression on the part of the artist, all these woven into an opulent fantasia.  In the Finale, Shaked addresses the finest of details together with the richness of its content, her masterful playing of it never lapsing into ostentatious show or melodrama. This is a rewarding, insightful performance of the sonata, capturing the beauty and power of Chopin’s music.

Recorded in 2015 at HaTeiva, Jaffa, Israel, the disc’s sound quality is distinct, warm and intimate (Noam Dorembus – recording engineer, Udi Koomran – mixing and mastering). Ilana R. Schroeder's comprehensive liner notes make for interesting reading. The four different works heard on RED provide a convincing picture of Shira Shaked’s grasp of style and outstanding musicianship. A graduate of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv) and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Shira Shaked graduated as a Doctor of Musical Arts from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where she was a student of Prof. Gilbert Kalish.

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