The name Leonard Shure has come to command a great deal of attention in Cambridge musical circles. Last year the Summer School persuaded him to lead its brand-new and well-touted Seminar in the Performance of Chamber Music--something of a "first" for academically oriented Harvard. This spring he gave a solo piano recital as part of the ceremonies celebrating the newly refurbished Lehman Hall part of Dudley House. Now he is back again to lead the chamber music seminar and to serve as the Summer School's resident pianist. Monday night, wasting no time, he inaugurated this season's concert series at Sanders Theatre.
Shure is a pianist who likes his music meaty. At this Dudley House recital he cose to assault two of the most awesome pinnacles of the piano literature, the Schubert Sonata in Bb, Op. posthumous, and the Variations on a Theme of Diabelli by Beethoven. Reaction was mixed and tended to the extremes, but there was general admiration for the sheer endurance feat of getting through all those notes.
As if trying to outdo himself, Monday night Shure tackled not two but three major works of the piano repertoire. Once again, Beethoven and Schubert figured prominently on the program, the former represented by the venerated Sonata in E, Op. 109, and the latter by another fruit of his frantic but fecund last eleven months, the Sonata in c minor, Op. posthumous.
Shure is known for his performance of music by German composers, particularly that of Beethoven. It was this composer's Opus 109 that was the most successful portion of Monday night's highly stimulating concert. It is a work much akin to the "Diabelli" Variations, featuring as its last movement a masterful and exquisite set of variations. But Shure's Opus 109 was much more digested than his Dudley "Diabelli." In this work he exhibited the acute but sensitively analytical mind for which he is noted among musicians. Every detail of the composition's intricate structure had been thought out with the utmost care. Shure employed a range of dynamics and special colorings that would be the envy of any pianist. While at times they produced a rather exaggerated effect, their use had obviously been meticulously planned way ahead of time. The last movement was magnificent in spite of several slips of memory.
The Schubert Sonata in c also evidenced an intensive study of the score. Unfortunately, Schubert does not bear the same kind of analysis as Beethoven. As in Opus 109, Shure was careful to clarify every counter-voice, phrase-grouping, and point of articulation. This had the regrettable effect of making Schubert's structural joinings even more obvious than they are. Shure took the piece too seriously, not leaving room for enough of that Vienese Gemutlich and Empfindsamkeit that are Schubert, special charms. Shure's performance had plenty of pianissimo but not enough sparkle.
But the work in which Shure's intellectual approach worked the least was Chopin's Sonata in b flat minor, Op. 35, the one that contains the famous Marche funebre. One of the composer' masterpieces, it dates from that period of his life when he was still in the first heat of his love affair with George Sand. As well-made as it is, the work pouring of melody that is sapped of life by an attempt to bring out every element of compositional logic. After all, this music is French. As in the Schubert, Shure was at times heavy-handed, especially in the bass, and the melodies if not obscured were often quite overphrased.
Still, these are relatively minor objections to a performance of three momentous works that was moving and inspiring. Shure began this year's summer concert series with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a resounding reaffirmation of the piano and the Nineteenth Century. Euterpe should be pleased.