BBC Legends BBCL 4185-2 77:33 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
The ever-mercurial genius of pianist Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) is captured live from Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival, 24 June 1974, in a large program that ranges from the impishly perverse to the sublimely exalted. Typical Cherkassky. After a limpid, sober rendition of Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations, we encounter a devil-may-care, albeit eminently colored, interpretation of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, played as a colossal study in graduated scales and dynamic contrasts. Several times, the repeated phrases in the first movement point directly to Tristan und Isolde. For sheer songfulness, few can match Cherkassky’s inflections in the Adagio cantabile, a simplicity of expression resonant with Wordsworth’s childlike faith. The last movement is a whirlwind in the Beethoven tradition, vertically colored, piquant, and cumulatively forceful.
Mendelssohn’s Scottish Fantasy is typical of his own genre of virtuoso keyboard works. Slow, melodic compendium of arpeggios spliced to any number of running figures and double octaves. In three movements, the piece can be construed as a bravura sonatina, a persuasive vehicle for Cherkassky’s fluidity and explosive volatility. If the Allegro con moto imitates a florid Beethoven bagatelle, the Rondo Allegro is another of those elfin bustlings at which Mendelssohn excelled. Chopin’s F Minor Nocturne was to Cherkassky what Schumann’s Reverie was to Horowitz, an extension of his very personality, no two applications of tempo rubato exactly alike. The Scherzo has drama and power, but not the sweep of say, Michelangeli. The phrasing, however, is natural, the periods balanced, the left hand a minor miracle, and the emotional authority absolutely stylistic. These same qualities are condensed in the two Scriabin preludes from Op. 11, each a poem played Andante. The C Sharp Minor plays as an erotic gesture whose effects remain a mystery. Another andante in the same key, marked “sentimentale,” follows – Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne, whose plaintive, salon ethos links it to his suite of character-pieces The Seasons. A fine Liszt exponent (witness his Hungarian Fantasia on DGG with Karajan), Cherkassky brings the operatic flourishes a rich patina, especially in the D Minor grumblings of Mozart’s Commandatore, which via a number of vocal-number paraphrases, wend their way to the Champagne Aria. Cherkassky’s charmed molding of the lines for the duet La ci darem la mano and its subsequent variants is spellbinding, a real tour de force.
With the continuing interest in the eccentric, if eminently colorful, Cherkassky legacy, I wonder why Testament or EMI hesitates to restore his excellent Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Menges (on Bluebird LBC 1066); or, why a more enterprising entrepreneur in live broadcasts might not consider the same piece masterfully rendered by Cherkassky with Gunter Herbig from St. Louis.
— Gary Lemco