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Shura Cherkassky – The Complete HMV Stereo Recordings
CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)/Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV1004 (1720) – Chaconne [15:00]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Bagatelle in G minor Op.119/1 [2:13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
4 Impromptus, D899 – No.4 in A flat major (1827) [6:10]

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in F minor Op.7 No.3 [2:21]
Waltz No.1 in E flat major Op.18 [4:57]
Nocturne No.8 in D flat major Op.27 No.2 [6:07]
Ballade No.2 in F major Op.38 [6:50]
Ballade No.3 in A flat major Op.47 [7:09]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No.13 in A minor S244 [8:01]
Valse de l’opéra Faust (Gounod) [9:12]
CD 2
Henry LITOLFF (1818-1891)
Concerto symphonique No. 4 in D minor, Op. 102 - Scherzo (1851/2) [7:59]¹
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
The Swan from: ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ (1886) arranged by Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938) [2:49]
Anatol LIADOV (1855 - 1914)
The Musical Snuffbox (c.1893) [2:21]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Twenty-Four Preludes; Op. 23 No.5 in G minor [3:55]; Op.23 No.2 in B flat major [3:27]

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Three Preludes for Piano (1926) [6.09]

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Toccata from Trois Pièces (1928) [2:13]
Abram CHASINS (1903-1987)
Three Chinese Pieces (1925) [8:40]
Appendix: Unpublished versions
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Three Preludes for Piano (1926) [6.05]

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.3 in A flat major Op.47 [7:15]
Shura Cherkassky (piano)
BBC SO/Malcolm Sargent¹
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London 1956 and 1958
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR04 [68:01 + 50:53] 


Experience Classicsonline

This two CD set arrives from a rather unexpected quarter, a new company called First Hand Records. If this is a marker, and if it reflects the general level of comprehensiveness and commitment, then I think we can expect some good things from them because this is a really first class contribution to Cherkassky on disc.

This is doubly the case since, to celebrate the centenary of the pianist’s birth in 2009, First Hand has had access to the stereo tapes of Cherkassky’s EMI sessions in 1956 and 1958, not the issued monos. These experimental stereos therefore make their first appearance in a coup well worth celebrating. There are also alternative takes, of the third Chopin Ballade and the Gershwin Preludes. In addition a significant number of performances are making their first ever CD appearance. These are reason enough on their own to consider the set essential listening even before we get to the performances themselves, which are imbued with so powerful a sense of drama that listening has been, and continues to be, a charismatic pleasure. 

The Bach-Busoni Chaconne is enriched with colour and expression, rather more strictly rhythmic than some may have anticipated but without Michelangeli’s chilly hauteur and command. Cherkassy’s more personalised romanticism finds a powerful ally in Busoni, and the performance registers as both selfless and also richly voiced. There are two Chopin Ballades and they offer inspiring playing, richly textured and keeping us on our toes, cutting off pedal (in the A flat major) and responding, occasionally impishly, to the rhythmic dictates of the music. His Chopin is always alive and invigorating, the D flat major Nocturne dreamily reflective without being indulgent. 

His Liszt has bravura control, whilst the Saint-Saëns-Godowsky The Swan has kaleidoscopic colouristic eloquence, its voicings beautifully profuse and persuasive. The Liadov is a Golden Age performance, redolent of the pianistic lions of the past, of whom Cherkassky was one. The Rachmaninoff Preludes offer a contrast. The G minor is played with grand seigniorial authority, control of texture, dynamism and sporting a languorously romantic B section. The B flat major meanwhile is curiously unconvincing and perhaps needed more rehearsal time. This weakness is really an isolated event in the set, with the possible exception of some of the playing in the Gershwin which, for all its technical aplomb, is a stylistic mismatch. The Chasins meanwhile is full of brilliantly insouciant control but can also cut expressively deep as well  - in the first of the three There’s also the glittering Litolff Scherzo with the BBC Orchestra and Malcolm Sargent - not the more familiar and later taping with Adrian Boult. 

Some of these performances are available on Testament (SBT1033) but obviously in mono. The stereos are good, and capture Cherkassky’s tone well. The alternative tapes are valuable, rewarding and important.  Notes are helpful and well written. Really, as I said earlier, this is a most impressive issue with quality transfers to match. High standards are set here. 

Jonathan Woolf 



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