Classical Reissue Reviews

Shura Cherkassky = Recital with works of MOZART, LISZT, GRIEG, PABST, SCRIABIN, STRAVINSKY – First Hand Records

A newly discovered tape of a Shura Cherkassky recital from 1971 reveals the fiery master of piano colors in top form, riveting in works familiar and unfamiliar to his legacy.

Published on September 12, 2013

Shura Cherkassky = Recital with works of MOZART, LISZT, GRIEG, PABST, SCRIABIN, STRAVINSKY – First Hand Records

Shura Cherkassky (1971) = MOZART: Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310; LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; GRIEG: Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7; MANA-ZUCCA: Burleske, Op. 261; PABST: Concert Paraphrase on Themes from “Eugene Onegin” by P. Tchaikovsky, Op. 81; SCRIABIN: Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1; STRAVINSKY: Russian Dance from “Petrushka” – Shura Cherkassky, p. – First Hand Records FHR 19, 82:19 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

From what seems like an unreleased tape from the British Library made 2 June 1971 (at an unidentified venue), we have a substantial concert from Russian virtuoso Shura Cherkassky (1911-1995) of many works he did record commercially for Nimbus, but here they achieve a stunning dimension of immediacy.  A real rarity among Cherkassky repertory pieces is the Mozart 1783 Sonata in A Minor, considering the scarcity of Cherkassky’s Mozart in any form. Cherkassky captures its tragic, internally intricate lyricism, avoiding the tendency to reduce the opening Allegro maestoso to an impassioned march.  The largesse of Mozart’s psychic drama occurs in the chromatically beguiling Andante cantabile con espessione, which Cherkasky plays with a more than expansive Mediterranean fervor.

The towering Liszt Sonata receives a blazing, impetuous performance, as much in the Horowitz or Earl Wild tradition as we could demand for sheer virtuosity, but no less invested with improvised personal quirks and lyrical asides of haunted power. The Liszt rhetoric evolves in a perfectly natural progression from the ground-motif, and Cherkassky’s flexible, supple trill remains a wonder in itself. The rendition increases its tempestuous assault on all of our senses, not the least of which, our perception of the Romantic ethos, succumbs to the unequivocal power of Cherkassky’s control of variegated dynamics in the course of the most mercurial of musical odysseys. On the other hand, Cherkassky cannot impose a decisive will upon the Grieg Sonata in E Minor, which cannot decide if it wants to proceed along traditional formal lines or evoke a progression of four distinct moods and affects.  What emerges is a work of serious intent in rather scattered emotional convulsions, often in imitation of rustic Beethoven.

Cherkassky provides a series of encores and character pieces, beginning with the ungainly Burleske of Mana-Zucca, a potent staccato etude spiced with huge runs and sudden chromatic leaps. That Cherkassky occasionally stamps the pedal becomes startlingly obvious. Of the four encores, the largest, the Paul Pabst arrangement of themes from Tchaikovsky, evinces the most color and emotional breadth. The waltz section conveys both flair and grandeur, the Cherkassky approach light, fluent, and witty.  Later, the same material becomes titanic, with Cherkassky’s monumental cascades’ bringing down the house. For immediate and intimate contrast, the sultry Scriabin Etude condenses its eroticism in select rising scales. The final piece, Stravinsky’s Russian Dance from Petrushka, reasserts the bold color vitality which for many defined the Cherkassky contribution to keyboard technique. Typically, even in the course of a familiar stale, Cherkassky manages to illuminate a line or color combination that has eluded virtually every other practitioner of his refined art.

—Gary Lemco

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