Shura Charkassky: Live in Concert, 1971
The tape of this 1971 recital comes from Shura Cherkassky’s own private collection housed at the British Library, but no one has established exactly where it took place. The piano sound is a little chalky but instantly recognisable as Cherkassky.
His Mozart – a composer he did not play often – may not appeal to purists but his performance of the A minor Sonata (new to his discography) let me hear the music with fresh ears, the tiny uncharacteristic slip he makes at 0'52" notwithstanding. The Liszt Sonata is occasionally wayward, with some puzzling decisions, but this account is completely and utterly engrossing from start to finish. Few pianists have played the first statement of the ‘chorale theme’ with such ferocious intensity or brought such playful wit to the fugal section. And how many observe Liszt’s allegro moderato marking on the final page?
Not even Cherkassky can persuade me that Grieg’s Sonata is a great work, yet its four movements are here given a coherence (especially challenging in the flawed last movement) that makes me at least admire it. Mana Zucca (1885-1981) was a friend of Cherkassky whose work he often championed, though her Burleske, Op 261, is hardly the best example. Pabst’s glittering Eugene Onegin paraphrase was a Cherkassky favourite. It encapsulates the most inimitable elements of his playing: the unmistakable personal sound, searing melancholy, fabulous dexterity, spontaneity, impish delight and an original musical mind. Above all, like the whole recital, it is as entertaining as it is compelling. Of how many can you say that today?