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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73, “Emperor”a (1809) [42:17]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Piano Concerto in Fb (1925) [31:58]

Shura Cherkassky (piano)
aBBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ronald Zollman; bBBC Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. aUsher Hall, Edinburgh, 29 January 1992; bRoyal Albert Hall, London, 14 September 1985 DDD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL42312 [74:53] 


Experience Classicsonline

Shura Cherkassky was in his eighties when he gave this “Emperor”; difficult to believe given the strength of his playing at the outset. As the piece progresses, there are fewer surprises here than one might expect, although there is a certain waywardness at times, even a sort of clumsiness. The more interior moments are by far the best. Elsewhere, tension can sag disturbingly and there is a clear lack of rapport between soloist and conductor. At times, a sense of direction is lost, too.

Moments of tenderness in the Adagio ma non troppo are compromised by ragged woodwind entries and suspect tuning. A shame to scupper an intent that is obviously to project great beauty. Talking of great beauty, the transition to the finale works – but is not quite the magical moment it can be; the opening piano statement of the finale is, perhaps predictably, rather blustery. Thereafter, momentum sags – and characteristically for Cherkassky, just before one thinks the whole thing is going to grind to a halt, he does something to delight the listener. But it is not enough. Throughout, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s contribution is rather lacklustre. 

Cherkassky’s Gershwin, by contrast, is exceptional. This is a BBC Proms performance, given towards the end of the 1985 season. The Gershwin Piano Concerto is bound to be a successful choice in this arena and so it proves here. In 2007 it was given by the NYPO under Maazel with Thibaudet as soloist - a memorable account. The link is to Carla Rees’ review. 

Cherkassky is on top form, be it in the teasing, jazz-inflected accents or in the grander, Rachmaninovian sweep of the larger melodic statements. To sample the latter try around the eleven minute mark in the first movement. Orchestral solos in the second movement, most notably the trumpet, are superb. One might perhaps not naturally associate Handley with jazz, but on the present evidence he was to the manner born. Cherkassky’s solo around the 7:30 mark is pure magic, and the orchestra’s melodramatic riposte seems exactly right. The finale fully lives up to its agitato direction. A pity the orchestra’s punch is blunted somewhat by the Albert Hall acoustic.

Clearly, if it is Cherkassky in the Gershwin you are after, this is a rewarding choice. For the “Emperor” you might be better advised to look elsewhere. There is a multitude of fine versions from the likes of Arrau, Schnabel and Pollini. I also reiterate my recent historical recommendation for Cor de Groot on Doremi.

Colin Clarke




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