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Shura Cherkassky (1909–1995) enjoyed a long career of over seventy years, rising to the forefront of internationally acclaimed concert pianists, first in America (where his family emigrated to escape the Russian Revolution), and after 1961 in London, where he lived until his death in 1995.
A pupil of the legendary Josef Hofmann at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Cherkassky made his concert debut in Baltimore at the age of eleven, touring Australia and South Africa in 1925, and thereafter building up what was almost an obsession for foreign travel as he satisfied an incessant demand for festival appearances, solo and concerto recitals. He moved to California in the 1940s, appearing at the Hollywood Bowl with Sir John Barbirolli and Leopold Stokowski, and after the war, he developed his second, European career, scoring an outstanding success in Hamburg in 1946 and in London, following his acclaimed Wigmore Hall recital in March 1957.
Although he had an enormous repertoire stretching from Bach to Berio, the highpoints of Cherkassky’s career for many remain his interpretations of the concertos of fellow Russian composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, and he is now classed alongside Horowitz and Rubinstein as a legendary and sensitive re-interpreter of the nineteenth-century Romantic repertory.
Cherkassky’s phenomenal virtuosity, colour range, imagination and spontaneity made him the ideal Chopin interpreter, though he never commercially recorded the two Chopin Concertos, so this is an important addition to his CD discography.
These live performances from the 1980s present Cherkassky at his most spontaneous and charismatic. As Robert Orledge has written in his booklet notes, “but if purists may now view some of his interpretations as idiosyncratic, there is still no denying that we are in the presence of a first-rate musician who understood better than many pianists what Chopin’s harmony and voice-leading were about, and who could make what are early works sound like monuments to his mature genius.” Superbly remastered in excellent stereo sound.
Fryderyk Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
I. Allegro maestoso
II. Romanza: Larghetto
III. Rondo: Vivace
Fryderyk Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
III. Allegro vivace
“Maddening or enchanting - Cherkassky could veer from one to the other...And here, in performances dating from 1981 and 1983, when Cherkassky was in his seventies, there is a characteristic if extreme example of failure and success...An odd mix, then, but more than worth it for the Second Concerto.”
10th May 2013
“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...For Cherkassky collectors, though, this is clearly a valuable, albeit uneven, acquisition.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.