The Great Pianists - Masters of the Piano Roll Volume 11: Shura Cherkassy and Leopold Godowsky
Shura CHERKASSKY (1909-1995)
Prelude Pathetique [2:21]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Polka de W.R. (1911) [4:30]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Song without Words Op.2 No.3 [3:14]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) - Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Rigoletto Paraphrase [7:06]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Love Waltzes Op.57 No.5 [5:36]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) – Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Spring Night Op.39 No.12 [3:51]
Adolf von HENSELT (1814-1849)
Lullaby in G flat major [3:07]*
La Gondola Op.13 No.2 [1:50]*
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Serenade in D minor [2:24]*
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Träumerei from Kinderszenen Op.15 No.7 [3:03]*
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Polonaise in D major Op.17 [7:13]*
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in E flat major Op.9 No.2 [5:25]*
Three Scottish Dances Op.72 Nos 3, 4 and 5 [2:09]*
Ballade in G minor [8:17]*
Shura Cherkassy (piano)
Leopold Godowsky (piano)*
rec. c. 1916-17 (Godowsky); c. 1925-29 (Cherkassky)
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD 051 [60:10]

Dal Segno’s piano roll bandwagon has now reached volume 11 and it conjoins an Old Master with a young one; Godowsky and Cherkassky, who was around 16 when he made these rolls. The repertoire reflects central repertoire, erring on the side of panache, dance rhythms, and sentiment.

Cherkassky unveils one of his own compositions, his Prelude Pathetique, a concise little opus and is warmly communicative in the remainder of his pieces, not least the Tchaikovsky Op.2 No.3. His panache is evident in the Verdi-Liszt Rigoletto Paraphrase. There’s an interesting Polka de W.R. When he recorded this in the 1940s on 78s – it’s now on Ivory Classics 72003 – he was much faster, and full of a greater sense of dynamism. It’s evident that he played it very much slower in the 1920s if this roll is solid evidence. To what extent it is his playing and to what extent it is the nature of roll technology is a moot point, but the rubati in the roll are unconvincing and the narrative of the playing equally so. I would say it’s a bit of both.

Fortunately for students of such things Godowsky recorded rolls and discs concurrently. His Columbia disc, made in February 1916, of Henselt’s La Gondola can be found on Marston 52046-2. Similarly the same composer’s Lullaby was also issued in disc and roll versions. The roll smoothes out Godowsky’s acute leading voices as preserved in the disc, and it’s clear that the verticality of response of the disc is not captured on the roll. The tempi are, not surprisingly, pretty much identical, and this is the case with Rubinstein’s Serenade, which he also recorded at the same time on both disc and roll. Some of the 1916 Columbia discs were not that well recorded, but they do preserve Godowksy’s authentic intent, even granted the constraints of the recording studios of the time. His famous sequence of Chopin Nocturnes, recorded in June 1928 [Marston 53008-2] can be contrasted with this decade earlier roll, which is, by comparison, slow and lumpy. The slowness is interesting. He takes 5:25 on the roll, whereas in 1928 on disc he took 3:56 – but could have taken up to around 4:30 had he wanted. Matters of tempo variance are not as important however as narrative continuity and here the roll fails to convince once again.

The actual transfer system employed by Dal Segno sounds fine, and the booklet is attractively laid out.

Jonathan Woolf