Pianist Mordecai Shehori, who left a cult following in New York in 2005 to take up residence in Las Vegas, is not well known in Los Angeles. Sunday afternoon, he made an entertaining, if not entirely satisfying, West Coast debut at the Atelier in Mar Vista, performing works by Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Pabst.
The Atelier's bucolic setting, the large courtyard of a private home and art studio, suggested a miniature Ojai Music Festival, all chirping birds and rustling trees, plus a pair of wandering lapdogs.
The first performer in what is planned as a casual recital series to demonstrate restored pianos (for sale, of course), the Israeli-born Shehori, 61, presented himself alternately as poet and Golden Age virtuoso, rabbi and stand-up comedian. Microphone in hand, he gave highly personal and amusing introductions to each piece and regaled an appreciative audience with tales of musical friends, including a spot-on imitation of his mentor, the great pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Links to Shehori's past seemed to bring out the poetry in his playing. His elegiac performance of Mozart's Rondo in A minor, K. 511, a piece he said Horowitz played for him the day before he died, proved moving. It was preceded by a rhythmically supple account of the composer's Fantasy in C minor, K. 396, during which Shehori's concentration was tested by a music-loving bichon frise who roamed under the 1942 Steinway.