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Shura Cherkassky Philip Fowke at Jerwood Library Seminar
Trinity College of Music, Greenwich 30 November 2004

Philip Fowke gave a fascinating illustrated lecture about Shura Cherkassky at Trinity College of Music in the Jerwood Library Seminars in the Performing Arts series. They were colleagues and friends for many years, and we were told about the great pianist's prickly and reclusive personality, and his single-minded pursuit of pianistic excellence. He retained a superb and reliable technique into extreme old age, as evidenced by his late recordings for Nimbus, which were set down in complete takes as in concert.

He was superstitious and obsessional in his routines; he practised assiduously, four hours a day, and gave Fowke one tip - that one must "always hit the middle of the note". Later, Fowke understood the wisdom of that terse recipe for success.

Cherkassky, one of the last survivors of an older generation of star pianists, whom I used to hear regularly at Wigmore Hall, had no interest in latter-day researches into 'period authenticity' and, although he knew his scores well, he was more concerned to project his feeling for the music. He enjoyed 'bringing out' unusual lines within the texture and this sometimes amounted to eccentricity. Cherkassky's collection of music passed to the Jerwood Library proved to be disappointingly immaculate; pristine pages with never a note or a fingering introduced! Often he bought new copies whilst touring to refresh his memory before a recital.

The talk, interspersed with archive recordings, illustrated his special tonal sensibility, and his perversity! His spontaneity made him not easy to conduct in concertos. During one heavy-going rehearsal, when Norman Del Mar tried to persuade him to unbend a little, Cherkassky retorted "I'll put the expression in at the evening!".

The most recent re-issue to be added to Cherkassky's immense
discography is BBC Legends BBCL 4160-2, in which you can hear Cherkassky sparring with Solti. I enjoyed greatly his account of the Mussorgsky Pictures, but Tchaikowsky No 1 is a concerto I cannot listen to often......

Philip Fowke takes part in two splendid CDs of English chamber music with The London Piano Quartet, Alan Bush (Dutton CDLX 7130) and Cyril Scott.

I enjoyed particularly the late cello sonata of Bush (tough and rigorous - Op.120, and still unpublished, presumably as a consequence of his remaining 'under a cloud' for so long because of his political convictions) and the exotic, expansive Piano Quintet of 1925 by Cyril Scott.

Both CDs are supplied with admirable notes which give musical-historical pictures of the times.



© Peter Grahame Woolf