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Shura Cherkassky - The Complete UK World Record Club Solo Recordings

Beethoven / Chopin / Liszt / Cherkassky
Release Date: 06/11/2013 
Label:  Guild   Catalog #: 2398/99   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Franz SchubertFrédéric ChopinRobert SchumannCarl Tausig,   ... 
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SHURA CHERKASSKY: COMPLETE UK WORLD RECORD CLUB SOLO RECORDINGS Shura Cherkassky (pn) GUILD 2398/99, mono (2 CDs: 158:18)


BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 32 in c. “Eroica” Variations. CLEMENTI Sonata in B?. SCHUBERT Sonata in A, D 959. CHOPIN Fantaisie-Impromptu Read more class="ARIAL12b">in c?. Barcarolle. Nocturne in f, op. 55/1. Waltz in E, op. post. Scherzo No. 3 in c?. SCHUMANN 3 Fantasiestücke. SCHUMANN-TAUSIG Der Contrabandiste. LISZT Consolation No. 3 in D?. Grand galop chromatique. Liebestraum No. 3. Grandes Études de Paganini: No. 3 in g?, “La Campanella”


The late Shura Cherkassky was to the romantic style of pianism what Glenn Gould was to the modern: a fascinating maverick, sometimes wrong, often right, but (as he himself termed it) never boring. By and large, he stuck much closer to the style and spirit of the music he played than did, for instance, Josef Hoffmann or Vladimir Horowitz; and, as he told me once in conversation, he had recorded certain pieces so many times that you were bound to like at least one version!


This is certainly true, but it is equally true that because Cherkassky was always rethinking his repertoire, always willing to take risks, there were times when his playing was less musically well “bound” and thus less effective than at others. I witnessed such a change myself. His live performance of the Tchaikovsky Second Piano Concerto, a work he championed throughout his career, with the Cincinnati Symphony in the early 1980s under Walter Susskind, was absolutely riveting in every respect, but the studio recording they made only shortly after the live performance lacked the former’s power and crackling tension. By the same token many of his several recordings for Nimbus, though beautifully captured in pristine digital sound, lacked the spark of his live performances at that time or of even some of his earlier studio recordings. My own impression is that, as he aged, Cherkassky found it more and more difficult to inspire himself in a studio environment.


Yet these recordings, made c. 1958 (the Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu and the Liszt Liebestraum No. 3) for EMI, and then for the World Record Club label between 1960 and 1963, capture Cherkassky at his peak. More than that: they seem to capture Cherkassky at a period when he was playing with greater power, both in terms of musculature and musical conception, than I can recall hearing from him in any other period, even in that early 1980s performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. A good example is the version of Beethoven’s last sonata that leads off this collection. One may be forgiven for assuming in advance that Cherkassky would play it with that exquisite phrasing and occasionally floating, mystical tone with which he imbued his Chopin, but in reality it is a “big” performance, full of drama (particularly the first movement) in a way that recalls Richter or Gilels. In this way, Cherkassky makes us hear the musical and dramatic kinship of this Sonata to the last string quartets. Yet it is by no means a brusque or insensitive performance, the second movement having moments of what, for lack of a better term, I would call “powerful silence”—which is to say that he moves into and out of the great fugue in such a way that even the quiet passages retain the tensile strength of the louder ones, thus pulling this often difficult movement together in a way that, to my ears, is even more successful than was Schnabel in his HMV series of Beethoven sonata recordings. (I may be alone in that I’ve always preferred Schnabel’s 1942 RCA Victor recording of the last Sonata to the HMV version.) Certainly, towards the end, Cherkassky manages to achieve that sound of the music floating upwards towards the ether, even in slightly constricted monaural sound (and why were early-1960s LPs recorded in mono?).


Cherkassky’s performance of the then little-known Clementi Sonata shows another side of him, an affinity for late 18th- and early 19th-century music. Here his touch is appropriately light, almost (but not quite) evoking the sound of early fortepianos in this music, the difference of course being the ability of modern pianos to color his tones with his intelligent and judicious use of pedal. After a recital he gave in Cincinnati, where I observed his right foot almost constantly pumping the dynamics pedal of the piano, I asked him about his use of it. He told me that, for him, it was an instinctive thing, that he was almost not even consciously aware of when and how he used it, but that for him the foot followed the hands. Nowhere on this set is this clearer than in this delicately and finely-chiseled performance. And listen especially for his superb use of rubato in the strict sense of the term during the last movement: for each moment when he presses the tempo, there is a reactive one where he relaxes it, which makes the musical flow sound not in the least mechanical. You can hear the same sort of thing in some of our very best HIP specialists nowadays, such as the gifted Anna Paradiso, but not very often, which is a great pity.


Likewise, his performance of the Schubert Sonata in A is unique for its jaunty rhythms and felicitous phrasing, which once again pulls the music together. It is certainly an un-Teutonic approach to the music, particularly un-Viennese, yet it works in making this often difficult Sonata “sound” as if it were being sung by Schubert’s friend, the baritone Vogl. The late-1950s Fantaisie-Impromptu is an exciting performance, again alternating power with delicacy as only Cherkassky seemed able to do, and this same feeling spills over into the famed “Eroica” Variations—structurally sound, yet evoking numerous moods, it is one of the finest performances I’ve ever heard of this work. Note, particularly, how Cherkassky plays delicate and lyrical lines in the right hand while the left plays Beethoven’s brusque rhythms with appropriately gruff humor.


This recording of the famed Chopin Barcarole is only different in small details from his 1954 recording as issued on the 2-CD Great Pianists of the 20th Century collection: apparently, this was one work that, once Cherkassky “found the way,” he kept with for some period of time. He rocks the barcarole rhythm very, very gently, like a gondola in the canal at Venice on a warm, lazy summer day. Personally, I have always preferred Gieseking’s version of this particular piece to everyone else’s, even Lipatti’s, but Cherkassky’s version is certainly valid. This version of the Nocturne is not exactly like the one on the Great Pianists set; it uses slightly less ritardando in the opening phrase and elsewhere, but it’s very close. The other two Chopin pieces are both very fine, but as a group I found the Schumann Fantasiestücke even more remarkable in feeling and execution. Surprisingly, his performance of the Tausig arrangement of Schumann’s Contrabandiste is nearly as virtuosic as if it were a performance by György Cziffra. The Hungarian pianist’s name came to mind again as Cherkassky played one of his specialties, the Grand galop chromatique, but here Cherkassky eases up on the tempo, choosing to play the piece with pixie-like humor and delicacy rather than Cziffra’s ear-dazzling power and speed. I was, however, less convinced by Cherkassky’s version of Liebestraum, his tempo being just this side of lethargic and his phrasing slightly more exaggerated than I like—a rare lapse, for me, in this otherwise excellent set—but he wraps up the program with a sparkling performance of the “La Campanella” Étude.


All in all, if you are a Cherkassky fan, as I am, this is not a set you will want to pass up. He was, quite simply, a magnificent artist.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 959 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 33 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2.
Impromptu for Piano no 4 in C sharp minor, B 87/Op. 66 "Fantaisie-Impromptu" by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1835; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 4 Minutes 57 Secs. 
3.
Barcarolle for Piano in F sharp major, B 158/Op. 60 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845-1846; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 9 Minutes 7 Secs. 
4.
Nocturnes (2) for Piano, B 152/Op. 55: no 1 in F minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1843; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 5 Minutes 17 Secs. 
5.
Waltz for Piano in E major, B 44 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829; Poland 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 2 Minutes 0 Secs. 
6.
Scherzo for Piano no 3 in C sharp minor, B 125/Op. 39 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Mallorca (Majorca),  
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 6 Minutes 30 Secs. 
7.
Phantasiestücke (3) for Piano, Op. 111 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 9 Minutes 53 Secs. 
8.
Der Kontrabandiste, for piano (after Schumann) by Carl Tausig
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 1 Minutes 49 Secs. 
9.
Consolations (6) for Piano, S 172: no 3 in D flat major, Lento placido by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849-1850; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 4 Minutes 53 Secs. 
10.
Grand galop chromatique for Piano, S 219 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Switzerland 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 4 Minutes 2 Secs. 
11.
Liebesträume for Piano, S 541: no 3, O Lieb, so lang by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1850; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 4 Minutes 24 Secs. 
12.
Grandes Etudes (6) de Paganini, S 141: no 3 in G sharp minor by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 4 Minutes 47 Secs. 
13.
Sonatas (2) for Keyboard, Op. 24: no 2 in B flat major by Muzio Clementi
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1789; London, England 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 11 Minutes 56 Secs. 
14.
Sonata for Piano no 32 in C minor, Op. 111 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 28 Minutes 41 Secs. 
15.
Variations (15) and Fugue for Piano in E flat major, Op. 35 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Shura Cherkassky (Piano)
Written: 1802 
Date of Recording: 1960-63 
Length: 25 Minutes 57 Secs. 

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