In October 1995, whilst on a visit to Paris, I heard
that Shura Cherkassky was in town and scheduled to give a recital at
the Salle Gaveau. I had never heard him in concert before, though I
greatly admired his recordings. I got myself a ticket, went along and
witnessed one of the most memorable piano recitals I had ever attended.
It was to be the one and only time I would hear him live in concert.
The programme included Beethoven and Chopin sonatas and at the end we
feasted on a pot-pourri
of those inimitable Cherkassky encores.
However, the work on the printed programme that really dazzled me was
the Liszt Waltz on Themes of Gounod’s Faust
home, I immediately bought the Testament CD. After the concert, I had
the good fortune to meet him, and he told me of some of the UK concerts
he had planned for the following year. Sadly they were not to be, as
he died at the end of December 1995.
What impressed me most about Cherkassky’s playing at that Paris
concert was the beauty of sound and the kaleidoscopic palette of colour
that he achieved. I had never heard that from a pianist in concert before,
and I have never heard it since. So it was with great excitement that
I approached this two-CD set, hoping to be reacquainted with some of
that Cherkassky magic.
The recordings here are sourced from three World Record Club LPs, recorded
between 1960 and 1963. As a bonus, two pieces, Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu
and Liszt Liebestraume
, are taken from an HMV mono 45rpm disc,
recorded in the late 1950s. The programme contains three substantial
works by Beethoven and Schubert, plus some smaller items. Many people
wrongly consider Cherkassky merely as a miniaturist. Stephen Hough,
recalled in a 1991 interview that ‘to see him principally as
a miniaturist excelling in encores and candied cameos, is to forget
the towering architectural grasp of, say, his Liszt Sonata
Cherkassky only recorded two Beethoven piano sonatas, the E flat Op.27
No.1 and this last sonata Op.111. The ‘architectural grasp
that I have just mentioned is very much in evidence here. There is great
energy and drama in the first movement. However, it is in the Arietta
that he achieves heights. It is a reading with great insight and integrity.
There is an otherworldly quality and a sense of inevitability. The ‘Eroica
Variations, are a great favorite of mine, ever since I saw the film
of Glenn Gould doing them. Cherkassky’s performance is more measured
and does not have the same visceral excitement as Gould’s.
D.959 in A major was the penultimate piano sonata Schubert composed
in that last fruitful year of his life. I have the original World Record
Club LP (T 58) which contains this work, together with the Schumann
Op.111 and the Liszt Grand Galop
. The re-mastering for this compilation
has greatly enhanced the sound, the original LP was cramped and boxy.
What I admire in this Schubert performance is Cherkassky’s dynamic
spectrum. One marvels at his ability to achieve superb pianissimos,
and his skill in colouring the sound with a judicious use of pedal.
He never over-pedals and smudges the canvas. There is simplicity in
the opening melody of the second movement, which has a wistful quality.
However, he does sound a little tame in the stormy middle section; Brendel,
to my mind, captures more of the terror and darkness here. The scherzo
is nicely paced. Then in the finale the sun comes out.
The Clementi is delightful with a Mozartian flavour, though one I am
not at all familiar with. The sparkling, pearl-like fingerwork in the
finale is a real tour de force
. I particularly like the Chopin
selection. Cherkassky’s Chopin is poetic, eloquent and expressive,
emphasizing the lyrical aspects of the music. There is a wonderful sense
of line, and his control of dynamics, with those subito pianos, is breathtaking.
To me, whilst he is the product of an age when individuality was nurtured,
his playing never sounds mannered as some of Horowitz’s later
playing did. In the Scherzo Op.39 as well as tension and drama throughout,
there is beauty in the way he exquisitely voices the chords. The cascading
notes which rain down are jewel-like.
In the Liszt group, Cherkassky brings into play his renowned cantabile
to the Consolation
. Technical brilliance
abounds in ‘La Campanella
’ and the ‘Grand
’. The Schumann-Tausig is distinguished with its scintillating
fingerwork. There is a plethora of poetry and passion in the Schumann
Devotees of the art of Shura Cherkassky will be overjoyed at the release
of these expertly re-mastered recordings and their restoration to the
catalogue. I must commend the insightful notes by Robert Matthew-Walker.
Most of all, however, I found the magic I was looking for.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111 [28:38]
Fifteen Variations on a theme from Prometheus (‘Eroica’),
Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Piano Sonata in B flat major, Op.47 No.2 [11:51]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in A major, D.959
Frederick CHOPIN (1810-49)
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op.66 (posth.) [4:57]
Barcarolle in F sharp , Op.60 [9:01]
Nocturne in F minor, Op.55 No.1 [5:11]
Waltz in E major, Op. posth. [1:55]
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.39 [6:25]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Three Fantasiestücke, Op.111 [9:48]
Der Contrabandiste, Op.74 No.10 [1:43]
Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Consolation No. 3 in D flat [4:48]
Grande Galop Chromatique G.219 [3:56]
Liebestraume No.3 [4:19]
Grandes Etudes de Paganini No. 3 in G sharp minor “La Campanella’