Audite 95.499, 53:55 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:
A truly happy discovery for the connoisseur, these inscriptions, one live (the Liszt, from the Titania Palast, Berlin, 11 February 1952) and one studio (Tchaikovsky, from Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 16-17 January 1951), with Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) and Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963). In beautifully mellow sound, the Tchaikovsky Concerto in G allows the natural éclat of these two artists to merge, all the while permitting Cherkassky his especial, idiosyncratic manipulation of the music as a vehicle for his rhetorical virtuosity.
Cherkassky always found a flamboyant joie de vivre in the G Major which compelled him–after the Second World War–as the B-flat Minor Concerto did not. Fricsay, too, enjoys the “balletic” drama of the first movement’s periods, which often allow his first-desk string and woodwind players their respective moments in the sun.
Cherkassky is all lightning fingers, double octaves, brilliant runs, fluttering arpeggios, and grandly punctuated, sweeping melodies. The Andante non troppo features elegant writing for the violin and cello, music as easily appropriate to Swan Lake as it is to Cherkassky’s contribution into an affecting, concertante showpiece. Again, Cherkassky’s lyric musings, his natural predilection for rhapsodic digression, elevates the music to the nobility of the composer’s great A Minor Trio. Fricsay’s fateful, tremolando transition to the third movement bestows a shimmering, ominous patina on the music that almost has us thinking of Beethoven. Of course, the final Allegro con fuoco hardly fulfills Beethoven’s requirements, having been more attuned to the acrobatics of Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, and Saint-Saens. Nice French horn and tympani work through the sly, quicksilver antics from the keyboard. The coda vigorously, even thrillingly, proclaims the piece a monument, and we are compelled to believe it.
The Liszt opening chords immediately reminded me that pianist Tamas Vasary told me he had collaborated with Fricsay, who had hoped to record both Liszt concertos with him. Typically, Fricsay projects that noble patience he could exert on the most familiar of scores, basking–as does Cherkassky–in the color interplay of instruments and those dramatic caesuras that lilt their affecting melos through this often spasmodic, even convulsive music. Cherkassky’s lightly lucid rhetoric pours through the keyboard like glinting, sparkling wine. The gorgeous cello sound that opens the Quasi Adagio could have come out of Les Preludes. Cherkassky’s touch celebrates Theodor Leschetizky’s pedagogy at every raindrop tone. Pearly trills to the triangle entry of the Allegretto vivace, then a sprightly dance in the manner of Mendelssohn, only here quite capable of hurling animated thunderbolts. The whiplash tactics of Fricay’s RIAS in the Allegro marziale animato have me wishing he had recorded the composer’s Mazeppa. Oboe and Cherkassky get along famously, the triangle keeping up the deftly unrelenting pace. Rhapsodic and poetic, the last pages move to their preordained victory of symphonic sound, the motto of which had announced, in the composer’s words, “none of you understands.” Well, Cherakssky and Fricsay surely do.