Notes and Editorial Reviews
Although Leonard Shure (1910-1995) was highly regarded by his peers for his forthright pianism and fierce musical integrity, his artistry is all but unknown today. There are at least two reasons for this. One is that Shure considerably reduced his performing schedule in the early 1960s to concentrate more fully on teaching. Two is that Shure’s few commercial studio recordings are out-of-print. The Bridge label rectified the situation somewhat by issuing selections from the pianist’s 1977-80 faculty recitals at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. In 2011 Doremi brought out a live, unreleased Beethoven Violin Sonata cycle from 1946 Library of Congress concerts featuring Shure and violinist Henri Temianka in an intensely inspired
collaboration. The live solo and concerto performances assembled for Doremi’s present three-disc set reveal Shure at the height of his powers, starting with a February 24, 1956 Carnegie Hall Recital preserved in quite decent archival sound.
The opening work, Beethoven’s Op. 109, evokes both the impetuosity and repose distinguishing Shure’s teacher Artur Schnabel, but with a leaner sonority and more forceful passagework in gnarly places like the third movement’s fifth variation. While Shure left two excellent studio traversals of Schubert’s C minor sonata (for Epic and Audiofon), his live Carnegie Hall version is even more communicative and involving. The finale’s dramatic pauses pack quite a wallop, while the galloping left-hand ostinatos are steady yet subtly inflected. The Menuetto and Trio’s dynamic surges address the music’s rarely acknowledged darker undercurrents, while the Adagio is a model of eloquent simplicity.
In his New York Times review of the concert, Harold C. Schonberg cited the Chopin B-flat minor sonata performance’s “jagged accents, great washes of tone, and big structure”. You can hear this in Shure’s expansive first-movement transitions, clear-cut repeated notes in the Scherzo, and sustained long lines that make the Funeral March sound shorter than its nine-minute duration. And in an age where Schubert’s F minor Moment Musical often receives inflated, micromanaged, and contrived interpretations, we should not take Shure’s clarity, discreet phrasing, and total lack of artifice for granted!
Two 1960 concerto performances significantly enhance Shure’s tiny discography. His Aspen Festival Beethoven C minor stands out for its stylish brio and understated lyricism, even though Shure’s marcato articulation in the Rondo comes off a bit spiky and insistent for my taste—the close-up microphone placement, perhaps. Shure’s kinetic power and forward sweep in the Brahms D minor’s outer movements contrast to the slightly heavy impression that Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic convey. Again, that might be due to the air-check recording’s diffuse detailing and blasting at loud moments. However, the Adagio represents a happier meeting of minds. Here the Philharmonic’s strings sing out resplendently in the sustained opening pages, while Shure builds his long phrases from the bottom up and unleashes a sonorous, texturally rich climax. Co-producer Daniel Gorgolione’s extensive annotations discuss this performance in the context of Bernstein’s infamous collaboration with Glenn Gould in the same work with the same orchestra two years later.
Shure’s two earliest-known recordings fill out the release. One contains most of the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto’s Rondo, all that survives of a 1936 Boston Symphony concert. It’s interesting how the 25-year-old pianist already differs from his 19th-century-trained predecessors in his refusal to sentimentalize the second theme. He also imitates Schnabel’s tendency to angularize passagework by rushing ahead for harmonic or structural emphasis. While the winged and effortless Chopin Rondo with Karl Ulrich Schnabel still stands as this work’s most delicious recorded interpretation, I find Doremi’s restoration overly filtered and drab next to the far more vivid and detailed transfer produced by Lincoln Mayorga on Town Hall, despite its additional shellac surface noise. In sum, this specially-priced package (three discs for the cost of two) constitutes a labor of love and an important contribution to Leonard Shure’s recorded legacy.
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