CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 – Shura Cherkassky, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./Christopher Adey/ BBC Sym. Orch./ Richard Hickox (Op. 21) – ICA Classics ICAC 5085, 75:22 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The commentator for Presto Classical proves incorrect when he notes that Russian piano virtuoso Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) never recorded the Chopin concertos commercially, for there has been an inscription (for Reader’s Digest) of the F Minor Concerto with Cherkassky, Rudolf Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic from the 1960s. The E Minor Concerto received a visit from Cherkassky in the 1980s in Atlanta under Robert Shaw, but that city’s symphony orchestra union will likely never grant permission to transfer the surviving tapes. So, we have an otherwise irretrievable moment from Glasgow, 3 December 1981, when Cherkassky’s mercurial magic and inimitable rubato applied themselves to the first of Chopin’s concertos.
Cherkassky’s natural predilection for ad libitum accents, rounded phrases, and pearly, bel canto roulades finds itself in Chopin’s powdered salon world where it belongs. Conductor Christopher Adey educes a world of color effects from his Scottish ensemble, who seem eager to match the intensity of Cherkassky’s flourishes and dreamy musings, though the orchestral part only attains grandeur when it imitates analogous fanfare in Paganini. The first movement passes through so many florid arches that we barely catch our dazzled breath to find ourselves in the recapitulation. Tone color, nuance, spiked inner voicing, all proceed as natural spontaneous products of the Cherkassky palette. When Cherkassky plays the cantabile melody against the French horn or bassoon, the gods weep. The Romanze: Larghetto “retreats” at first into a childlike simplicity of expression, an intimate layered nocturne whose beauty we seem to spy upon, much as Psyche stole her one glance on the sleeping Eros. Moments of virile ballade emerge from the middle section’s filigree, culminating in limpid droplets or tiny bells to remind us of our collective reverie. Impish, phosphorescent, eminently poetic, the Rondo: Vivace under Cherkassky skips and cavorts in self-indulgent pyrotechnical wizardry. The occasional appearance of a subito piano (“reverse accents”) takes the rendition periodically into a stylistic atavism that seems totally refreshing by today’s homogenized standards.
The F Minor Concerto from Royal Albert Hall (30 August 1983) shimmers with expectation from players and audience alike. To a degree, Cherkassky projected a degree of nervous tension by the daunting fact that he rarely abided by rehearsal standards. The largesse of the keyboard conception imparts what Horowitz might have made of this concerto, so bold are the broad strokes and dramatic spaces. The creamy patina of the playing finds an equal match in the sheer security of the Chopin style, which however idiosyncratic proves never false. A gorgeous Larghetto follows – replete with extended trills – whose middle section transcends any John Field nocturne that may have served as Chopin’s model. Just listen to Cherkassky’s ascending scale just prior to the orchestra’s last statement of the theme, serving as a evanescent coda. With an elegant flurry to open the last movement, Cherkassky launches into a heated series of declamations alternating with mazurka-waltzes in kaleidoscopic array. That Cherkassky can apply unbridled speed of execution will wake up anyone who finds performances of this movement “formulaic.” Nothing complacent in the rockets that light up the Chopin sky after the trumpet call to action. When the audience finally has its say, the explosions rule.
Historic renderings of music from France