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Shura Cherkassky. The Historic 1940s Recordings
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Prelude and Fugue in F minor
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Polka de W.R.
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Toccata from Trois Pièces
Cecile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Autrefois, from Six Pieces Humoristiques
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata in F minor
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebestraum No. 3
Concert Etude No. 2 – Gnomenreigen
Four Hungarian Rhapsodies
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Toccata (1932)
Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Fairy Tale in E minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Suggestion Diabolique
Anatoly LIADOV (1855-1914)
Music Box, Op. 32
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Tarantella in A minor
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Prelude in C sharp minor
Prelude in D minor
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Prelude for the Left-Hand Alone
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
October: Autumn Song
Vladimir REBIKOV (1866-1920)
Waltz from The Christmas Tree, Op.21
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Prelude and Toccata
Boogie Woogie Etude
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53
Mazurka in C Major, Op. 68, No. 1
Mazurka in D Major, Op. 33, No. 3
Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 36
Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66
Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49
Etude in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12
Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 10, No. 4
Shura Cherkassky (piano)
Recorded 1940s and 1950s – see review
IVORY CLASSICS 72003 [2 CDs 73.23 and 67.42]

This is an excellent conspectus of Cherkassky’s pianism but the first thing to note is that the title isn’t quite right. Some of the recordings actually come from sessions in the 1950s; some from a 1950 collection of Chopin pieces (7ER 5142 – see the notes for clarification of the recording details and the pieces concerned) others from as late as 1958. Capricious and devilish though he might seem, not everything here is touched with his characteristic naughtiness – certainly not in relation to his recitals in the 1980s when things could be taken to the edge of caricature – and many a time beyond it with his reshaping and reversals of dynamic markings et al. Many derive from HMV, Vox and Swedish Cupol discs and they are welcome back into the discographic fold.

Here we have some virtuoso repertoire delivered with panache. His Saint-Saëns has real drive and the sole Rachmaninov is witty and charming. His Chaminade – I don’t associate him at all with her salon confections – is nevertheless not simply ripplingly pliant but also curiously moving. The Brahms Sonata is an uncommon recording and though it’s rather embedded intractably in the first of the two CDs we should be grateful as it furnishes us with evidence of his playing of a heavyweight romantic sonata. His playing here is dramatic but very personalised, as befits an exemplar of romantic affiliations. Some of the voicings will certainly not be to all tastes and though there is no want of drama his Scherzo strikes me as somewhat frivolous. The fugal episode in the finale however is finely done. His Liszt Rhapsodies are cavalier and imposing; the first disc as a whole summing up the strengths and limitations of his pianism in no uncertain terms.

The second disc features a great deal of Chopin and a series of lighter things that were grist to Cherkassky’s mill. His Medtner contrasts sharply with the composer’s own performance. Medtner’s Op. 34 No. 2 Fairy Tale is full of his characteristic drive and linearity whereas Cherkassky’s is more discursive, constantly inflecting and highlighting and pointing inner voicings. There’s no stopping the Prokofiev and his Tchaikovsky Autumn Song reveals a wonderful facet of his musicality – a kind of bel canto singing line that banishes all objections when it’s deployed with such colour, ardour and beauty of line as it is here. His Chopin is not as objectionable as some might anticipate knowing what we do of his later self. I think even more ascetic-minded listeners might even revel in Cherkassky’s colour and sense of line, his natural sounding response to them. The Impromptu in F sharp is especially beautiful.

There’s a fine booklet with excellent photographs and the transfers sound to have dealt effectively with some of the more troublesome aspects of the original recordings. His tonal and timbral variety comes through; his glint and colour is all there. As is, yes, his Morton Gould. Many of the pieces here are short etude type or encore pieces. But the show-stopping Gould pieces as ever sum up his vivacity and sheer downright unusualness.

Jonathan Woolf


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