> Rachmaninov, Prokofiev Cherkassky BBCL4092-2[GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto no.3 in d minor

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Concerto no.2 in g minor

Shura Cherkassky, piano, BBC SO/Rudolf Schwarz (Rachmaninov), LPO/Kent Nagano (Prokofiev)
Rachmaninov recorded Royal Festival Hall, London, 11th December 1957, Prokofiev recorded Royal Festival Hall, London, 2nd May 1991
BBC LEGENDS BBCL4092-2 [76:09]


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They say itís a long, long time from May to December. The Rachmaninov, recorded in the latter month, has the traditional British bronchitic audience accompanying it in every phase, whereas the Prokofiev, recorded in May has no such distractions. Itís also a long, long time from 1957 to 1991, and itís very revealing to observe the huge progress the BBC engineers had made during this period.

Cherkassky was a truly remarkable performer, a one-off who turned every concert into a genuine live event in which anything could happen. His compact, simian frame would bounce high off the piano stool at emphatic moments, and large globules of sweat would fly in all directions, causing orchestra members to contemplate employing judiciously placed umbrellas. His approach to concert-giving was, of course, a high-risk one, which the Rachmaninov demonstrates graphically. I think the noisy audience may actually have played a part here; itís as if their constant coughing and spluttering - which I have to say is excessive, and had me wondering uncharitably why people with such terrible infections donít stay tucked up in bed Ė made Cherkassky exaggerate the fluctuations of dynamics and tempi, giving the whole thing a fidgety, fussy character which is at odds with the nature of the concerto. And the finale comes apart quite spectacularly in two places (acknowledged in the booklet notes) Ė Track 3 around 5:35 and again around 13:34 - while ensemble elsewhere is often pretty chaotic.

The Prokofiev is a completely different matter. The standard of the accompaniment is very high, and the performance captures well the powerful, brooding nature of this fine work. It is monumentally difficult for the soloist, and I can live with the splashy errors which arise here and there, particularly in the first movement. This is Ďliveí, and letís remember that Cherkassky was, incredibly, 81 years old when the performance was given. The energy which he pours into this performance is stunning, and the climax of the huge first movement cadenza is overwhelming, leading to a magnificent entry of the orchestra with the opening theme Ė Track 4, around 9:45.

The whirlwind second movement, over almost before it has started, gets the true virtuoso treatment, while the grotesqueries of the Intermezzo are brought out superbly. This music looks forward to the heavy accents of the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet, and that kind of heaviness persists in passages of the finale. Like the other movements, this is wonderfully characterised, soloist and orchestra getting right inside the weird imagination expressed in the music. The recording lets us hear the monstrous belchings of the tuba at (Track 7) 1:20, and this instrument, of which Prokofiev was so inordinately fond, keeps cropping up throughout the movement.

This is a titanic performance of the Prokofiev, not perfect in every detail, but totally worth hearing. It repays the listener, perhaps, for persisting through the comparatively frustrating and, to me at any rate, unsatisfactory version of the Rachmaninov. In that sense, the BBC are to be thanked and congratulated for this issue which accurately reflects both the highs and the lows of a great performing artist.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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