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Shura Cherkassky - The Complete World Record Club Solo Recordings
See end of review for track-listing
Shura Cherkassky (piano)
rec. 1958-1963. Locations not specified. Vinyl restorations from WRC T271, T247, T58 and HMV 7P258.
GUILD GHCD 2398/99 [79:24 + 77:44] 

Guild should be applauded for reissuing these World Record Club recordings spanning two decades and expertly transferred from vinyl LPs. It’s a shame that the original master tapes could not be located and used but these vinyl restorations have been well managed.
Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) made a number of recordings for WRC. These are still cherished by many collectors including me. They include the Grieg, Schumann and Tchaikovsky (first) piano concertos in partnership with Sir Adrian Boult. Over the years, those concerto recordings have been reissued on various bargain labels on tape and LP but the present set of solo recordings, to my knowledge, is the first time these sessions have been made available on CD.
Cherkassky, without doubt one of the giants of the keyboard, could often be wayward in his approach but he always had something interesting to say. Some of the performances captured here are what you could call safe and mainstream but his fabulous musicianship and spontaneity are very much in evidence. Cherkassky’s brilliant technique is used to serve the music rather than just to draw attention to his undoubted virtuosity.
The opening of the Beethoven C Minor Sonata is suitably inward and grave but the highlight is to be found in the second movement Adagio molto semplice e cantabile which is lyrical, romantic and almost light in its approach. Lightness and clarity are also the key features to his recording of the Prometheus Variations, the main them of which is used in the last movement of the Eroica symphony. In lesser hands this work, running for the best part of half an hour, could soon outstay its welcome and become tedious. Not so here - the attention to detail, elegant phrasing and dynamic contrast continually draws you in. The Clementi sonata is brilliant. There’s the usual romantic Cherkassky approach but it’s the immaculate fingerwork in the fast passages and scales that takes the breath away. The whole thing is playful, spirited and joyous. This approach is further illustrated in the Schubert Sonata in A Major. Schubert should almost always be genial and life-enhancing and that’s certainly the case here. Anyone who thinks that Cherkassky is a pianist best suited to the large, barn-storming romantic piano concertos should hear this and think again. He has the ability and knack to make the most austere passages come alive and deliver a smile. Despite a couple of minor lapses - maybe Cherkassky was a fan of complete “takes” - this is a great performance.
The five Chopin pieces included come to a climax with a magnificent rendition of the Scherzo No.3. Although obviously romantic music in essence, Cherkassky also catches the sad, melancholy spirit of the work to a tee. He treats the music very seriously. It’s full of grief and somewhat austere in his hands but it certainly works. At the other extreme, he delivers the Waltz in E with a simple swagger. It’s tongue-in-cheek salon music at its best.
Now to Schumann and an absolute must for any serious collector of world class pianism. Der Contrabandiste is a stunner. This is just about the best example you will find of prestissimo playing delivered with a real lightness of touch. It recalls the sort of fireworks so often displayed on disc by Earl Wild and, dare I say it, by Horowitz. Indeed, Cherkassky continues to compete with Horowitz in the Liszt D-flat Consolation. This is a cool, level-headed and unsentimental rendition. Not everyone will enjoy this coolness but that’s where personal taste comes into play. The performance of the old pot-boiler that is the A-flat Liebestraume has nothing particularly special about it but the recital ends with another great performance. La Campanella is executed with swagger and fantastic detail. This brings to an end a wonderful double CD set. The LP transfers are very fine with just a few blemishes. These patches are certainly down to unavoidable end of side distortion from the vinyl; how did we put up with this for so long? The recorded sound is clear - not very glamorous, admittedly - but more than good enough to allow the listener to enjoy these riveting performances.  

John Whitmore 

See also review by Stephen Greenbank (August 2013 Recording of the Month)
Masterwork Index: Beethoven sonata 32 ~~ Schubert sonata D959
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111 [28:38]
Fifteen Variations on a theme from Prometheus (‘Eroica’), Op.35 [25:51]
Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Piano Sonata in B flat major, Op.47 No.2 [11:51]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in A major, D.959
Frederick CHOPIN (1810-49)
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op.66 (posth.) [4:57]
Barcarolle in F sharp , Op.60 [9:01]
Nocturne in F minor, Op.55 No.1 [5:11]
Waltz in E major, Op. posth. [1:55]
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.39 [6:25]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Three Fantasiestücke, Op.111 [9:48]
Der Contrabandiste, Op.74 No.10 [1:43]
Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Consolation No. 3 in D flat [4:48]
Grande Galop Chromatique G.219 [3:56]
Liebestraume No.3 [4:19]
Grandes Etudes de Paganini No. 3 in G sharp minor “La Campanella’ [4:47]