Shura Cherkassky was in his eighties when he gave this “Emperor”;
difficult to believe given the strength of his playing at the
outset. As the piece progresses, there are fewer surprises here
than one might expect, although there is a certain waywardness
at times, even a sort of clumsiness. The more interior moments
are by far the best. Elsewhere, tension can sag disturbingly and
there is a clear lack of rapport between soloist and conductor.
At times, a sense of direction is lost, too.
of tenderness in the Adagio ma non troppo are compromised
by ragged woodwind entries and suspect tuning. A shame to scupper
an intent that is obviously to project great beauty. Talking
of great beauty, the transition to the finale works – but is
not quite the magical moment it can be; the opening piano statement
of the finale is, perhaps predictably, rather blustery. Thereafter,
momentum sags – and characteristically for Cherkassky, just
before one thinks the whole thing is going to grind to a halt,
he does something to delight the listener. But it is not enough.
Throughout, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s contribution
is rather lacklustre.
Gershwin, by contrast, is exceptional. This is a BBC Proms performance,
given towards the end of the 1985 season. The Gershwin Piano
Concerto is bound to be a successful choice in this arena and
so it proves here. In 2007 it was given by the NYPO
under Maazel with Thibaudet as soloist - a memorable account.
The link is to Carla Rees’ review.
on top form, be it in the teasing, jazz-inflected accents or
in the grander, Rachmaninovian sweep of the larger melodic statements.
To sample the latter try around the eleven minute mark in the
first movement. Orchestral solos in the second movement, most
notably the trumpet, are superb. One might perhaps not naturally
associate Handley with jazz, but on the present evidence he
was to the manner born. Cherkassky’s solo around the 7:30 mark
is pure magic, and the orchestra’s melodramatic riposte seems
exactly right. The finale fully lives up to its agitato direction.
A pity the orchestra’s punch is blunted somewhat by the Albert
Clearly, if it
is Cherkassky in the Gershwin you are after, this is a rewarding
choice. For the “Emperor” you might be better advised to look
elsewhere. There is a multitude of fine versions from the likes
of Arrau, Schnabel and Pollini. I also reiterate my recent historical
recommendation for Cor de Groot on Doremi.