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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata No. 8 in A Minor K310 (300d) (1778) [19:08]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor S178 (1853) [24:20]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) 
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op.7 (1865 rev 1887) [17:16]
MANA-ZUCCA (1885-1981)
Burleske, Op.261 [3:41]
Paul PABST (1854-1897)
Concert Paraphrase on Themes from Eugene Onegin by P.I. Tchaikovsky, Op.81 [11:43]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Three Pieces: Etude in C sharp minor, Op.2 No.1 (1887) [3:18]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Russian Dance from Petrushka (1921) [2:53]
Shura Cherkassky (piano)
rec. 2 June 1971, unknown location

In his fine booklet notes Jonathan Summers tries to pin down the location of this June 1971 Cherkassky recital but without success. At the moment then it remains - rather like those Second World War radio broadcasts – ‘recorded somewhere in England’ (probably). It doesn’t really matter. Each of Cherkassky’s concerts was an occasion, and this one is no different.

He’s not known for his Mozart which is fair as he didn’t play much. He did occasionally perform a few of the sonatas but this is apparently the only – thus far – extant recording of K310. It’s warmly, lyrically and expressively done, with its opening Allegro mestoso sounding unusually pliant in his hands, all sense of combat elided. Rich colouration imbues the slow movement, songfully spun, whilst there’s quite enough brio to send the finale happily on its way. Some may well find this kind of interpretation majoring on the easy-going, but there is undoubtedly unashamed warmth to the reading. Grieg’s Sonata has never really been co-opted to the living current of the repertoire but Cherkassky takes it by the scruff of its neck here. Glenn Gould’s iconoclasm led him to record the work but his reading is rhythmically more conventional, if predictably slower, than Cherkassky’s volcanic view of the first movement. In his hands its tempestuous virtuosity and myriad voices will come as a shock, not least to those diligent scholars who espouse this at Grade 8. Cherkassy prefers to see it as a Nordic votive drama and this is a master-class in instability and tempo-fluctuation. Don’t overlook his sheer refined elegance in the slow movement, however. The major sonata is the Liszt and, as with the Grieg, this is a sizzler. It’s exceptionally fast but such is Cherkassky’s control of nuance, narrative, and rubato, one doesn’t necessarily notice. What one can’t help but notice is the coruscating virtuosity, the personalisation, the variety of dynamic ranges, the risk-taking bravura and control of pedaling. One senses his quivering, almost animal responses to the tensions and freedoms offered by a concert such as this – and he responds as a great artist can, with playing of inimitable excitement. It’s certainly more vivid than any other of his surviving Liszt sonata performances.

After such sonata bounty it seems invidious to wrap up the remainder of the programme in a few sentences, but the other pieces reflect in the main his taste for the raunchy and florid. Mana-Zucca’s Burleske is manna from reportorial heaven – she was an American ex-child prodigy who wrote music as others eat breakfast (over 1,000 compositions) and was a friend of Cherkassky – and it allows free rein to his puckish virtuosity. Pabst’s Eugene Onegin paraphrase is balanced here between exuberance and refined colour, where Cherkassy’s palette embraces music-box delicacy, refined tracery, and stentorian basso profundo. Scriabin’s Etude – there’s an obvious typo in the track listing as it should be Op.2 not Op.1- is taken slower and more pliantly than Horowitz. A bracing Stravinsky envoi sends us on our way.

This well-filled 82-minute disc exists at all because it was retained by the pianist and formed part of a legacy that he gifted to the British Library. All I can say is if there’s any more like this, I want to hear it.

Jonathan Woolf



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