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Shura Cherkassky piano recital at Wigmore Hall


Rameau Gavotte and Variations

Haydn Piano Sonata in E HXV34

Hindemith Sonata No 3

Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No 2

Pieces by Chopin (Ballade No 3, Nocturne Op 48/2, Mazurkas, Op 57/3, 67/1), Berkeley and Tchaikovsky


Recorded 27 October 1993

Wigmore Live WHLIVE0014


It's hard to know what is more remarkable about Cherkassky's playing on this disc, the eloquence he had all his life or his robust virtuosity at so advanced an age. There is no evidence of either the ravages of age or the staleness of much repetition. As we listen to the Liszt (which is pretty clean as well as sparklingly virtuosic), we ask, bewildered, how can this be the playing of an eighty-four year old?


Cherkassky's gift was above all to bring variety and character to the pieces he played. It is instructive that Bryce Morrison, in the tribute part of the booklet notes, finds it necessary not only to describe Cherkassky's playing but also to defend his approach. For me, it is self-evidently the case that playing Haydn with such life, wit and vivacity, and with so many colours, is infinitely more pleasurable and illuminating for the listener than something straighter. Nor will you ever hear the Rameau done more pianistically.


By alluding, however, to the ‘academic correctness' that Cherkassky does not represent and to the 19 th century tradition of the pianist as hero, that Cherkassky inherited, Bryce Morrison does remind us that this is pianism of a type, as well as a quality, rare today. Cherkassky, who died two years after this recital, was one of the last survivals of the ‘golden age.'


For sure, if you are fussy about ornaments, you will cavil at both Rameau and Haydn; if you like your Hindemith as proper Gebrauchsmusik, you'll wonder at Cherkassky's freedom. Surely even a pedant, though, would be enchanted by his Chopin on this disc.


A BBC Legends disc issued last year, a recording of a Cherkassky Snape Maltings recital in 1974 (BBCL4185), makes an instructive comparison. It too, begins with the Rameau, perhaps a little perkier and less magisterial, but essentially similar in the way it transforms a heavily decorated texture into a flowing melodic line. Indeed, that word, ‘flow' encapsulates Cherkassky's playing. Elsewhere on Cherkassky 1974, there are fine accounts of Beethoven's Pathetique and Liszt's Fantasy on Mozart's Don Giovanni. One piece, the Chopin Op 31 Scherzo, is too messy and does not quite come off – an irony, since on the 1993 disc, it is the Chopin above all that is impeccable, passionate yet always in control. Otherwise, Cherkassky 1974 is an equally delicious vintage, recorded a little further away from the piano, and generally less intense in effect than the Wigmore disc.


Both discs are extremely attractive in presentation and take full design advantage of the strong BBC and Wigmore brands; Bryce Morrison also writes the tribute in the Legends booklet, and since there are no ‘standard' notes on the music in this series, he has more space to expand on the same theme of character in interpretation.


More or less the entire Wigmore Live series is self-recommending. And so is more or less every Cherkassky recital disc. And here we have both….


Ying Chang



See also Anthony Hodgson in Classical Source

and Philip Fowke's November 2004 lecture on Shura Cherkassky at Trinity College of Music [Editor]