Dr. Jimbob's Home -> Classical Music -> Pianists -> Shura Cherkassky




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Shura Cherkassky

Shura Cherkassky


For more information:

  • CBC Great Pianists (biography, Real Audio profile & clips)
  • Philips Great Pianists of the Century Series (biography and selected recordings)

  • Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Re: Shura Cherkassky
    Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997

    Dave Rolfe asks:

    Could anyone provide more information about Shura Cherkasky? I'm not at all familiar with this pianist.

    Since none of the customary pianoers have said anything that has made its way to my news server, I'll take the liberty of trying to answer this. (Just remember, if you jump on some woeful distortion of fact that you had a few days to get to this first, okay?) Shura Cherkassky was one of the great Romantic pianists of the century, and arguably one of the last ones (7 Oct 1909 - 27 Dec 1995). (He was also an occasional contributor to CompuServe's classical music newsgroup, and apparently a charming and insightful one, to boot.)

    He was born in Odessa to a dentist and a piano teacher. The family fled to the United States in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Cherkassky stirred up some notice as a child prodigy (apparently listed as two years younger than he was, to extend his "prodigy" like career, a fact that apparently remained unrevealed until 1995), but never signed a long-lasting contract with a major label to ride the PR machine to glory the way Horowitz and countless other contemporaries did. There is a smattering of disks that he made when he was in his pianistic prime, though unfortunately, I've never heard any of them. He did concertize and teach, and his career underwent something of a revival when he undertook a multidisc recording project with Nimbus Records. After that (and perhaps after the passing of other Romantic giants like Horowitz), Cherkassky's presence certainly rose, and there were a few discs of encores and at least one concerto recording for London before his unexpected death in late 1995.

    Cherkassky was a pupil of Josef Hofmann, and he inherited his master's taste for an increasingly forgotten repertoire and approach to playing (though he also learned and programmed 20th century masterworks frequently, and played them well). He loved the bonbons that used to pepper pianists' programs, and approached works both big and small with a freedom and spontaneity that sounds anachronistic in this modern age of so-called textual fidelity. He would apparently practice his playing at half speed, to get the pieces under his fingers, but what he would do with a piece in concert was anyone's guess. At his best, he plays with a gusto, zest, and yes, logic that defies many other pianists, and often shines through the technical limitations that came with age.

    Good recordings? I have a CD which reprises most of his 80th birthday recital (London 433 654-2), which features a marvelously compelling set of the Schumann Etudes symphoniques, along with a spiky Ives 3-page sonata (!), a wonderful paraphrase from Evgeny Onegin, some gorgeous Chopin, and his signature piece, Hofmann's Kaleidoskop. It's a wonderful introduction to his art, as is the London disc of encores. (I don't know about the Rachmaninov concerto that he recorded for London -- yet.) The Nimbus CD's are a bit more problematic; his technique is less than optimal, here, and Nimbus's recorded sound is murky and dull. Still, I hear some marvelously insightful, idiosyncratic playing in what I've heard, which includes a Liszt and a Chopin recital. Might want to try them one at a time before diving in whole-hog though.

    Quite honestly, I don't know why I don't have more Cherkassky recordings. If anyone can step up with further recommendations, I'd be most appreciative also!

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    Last updated: December 16, 2001 by James C.S. Liu

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