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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 (1830) [43:08]
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21 (1829) [32:06]
Shura Cherkassky (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Adey
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. December 1981, Studio 1, Broadcasting House, Glasgow (No.1): August 1983, Royal Albert Hall. London (No.2)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5085 [75:22]

Cherkassky’s reputation as an iconoclast and individualist meant that accompanying him in concertos could be fraught with danger. This disc shows both sides of the Cherkassky coin.
 
The E minor Concerto was taped in Broadcasting House, Glasgow on 3 December 1981. The BBC Scottish Symphony accompanied, and was directed by Christopher Adey. An able musician, one nevertheless feels a total mismatch between conductor and pianist. I’m not altogether sure that the BBC Scottish sounds much enthused by their task either. The result is certainly no disaster but it is without question both solid and stolid. The opening orchestral introduction sounds dutiful rather than engaged and Cherkassky, temperamental to the last, responds with phrasing that alternates idiosyncrasy with the earthbound. Phrasing seldom takes flight and even some vintage Cherkasskian voicings fail to convince. There is tonal lustre at a number of points in the slow movement but the finale returns to the dogged feeling. Certainly, Cherkassky was not the easiest of men to accompany, as noted, but this radio broadcast, which has some hiss, doesn’t capture the pianist on his best, most mercurial form nor does it document an especially easy collaboration with Adey and the Scottish.
 
The Second Concerto was taped on 30 August 1983. Richard Hickox and the BBC Symphony accompanied here and the occasion, though the notes don’t mention it, was a Prom concert. Hickox proves a sensitive and thoughtful collaborator and the orchestra, buoyed by the occasion, accompanies with feeling. Throughout, the sense of cohesion and collaboration is on a wholly different level from the earlier concerto in Glasgow. Cherkassky doesn’t display too many quirks, and his rubati are not excessive. His tonal qualities are far more evident, and for longer too, not least in the filigree of the Larghetto, where Hickox brings out the wind counter-themes with great perception and to telling effect. Hickox follows Cherkassky tightly in the finale too, ensuring good balance, and that ensemble is maintained.
 
I liked the F minor performance, and it was good to be reminded how sympathetic an accompanist Hickox was. Essential listening? No, in all honesty, even though he left behind no studio recording of No.1. For Cherkassky collectors, though, this is clearly a valuable, albeit uneven, acquisition.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 




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