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Shura Cherkassky

Shura Cherkassky

Shura Cherkassky

*7 X 1909 Odessa, †27 XII 1995 Londyn

Shura Cherkassky - was the son of a dentist and a piano teacher, a graduate of the Petersburg Conservatoire. Cherkassky was a child prodigy who composed an opera at the age of 5 and made his debut as a conductor at 10. In 1922, the Cherkassky family moved to the US. Shura made his debut in 1923, playing Chopin's Concerto in F minor with the Baltimore Symphony. He later studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Josef Hofmann, and with Leopold Stokowski. He made his first concert tour of the US in 1923, and toured in Europe in 1937-8. His greatest fame came when he moved to London after World War II. He remained active on the concert platform until the end of his life, playing a famous 80th jubilee concert at Carnegie Hall, and making his last tour in spring 1995, at the age of 85.

Cherkassky was one of the outstanding individualities of 20th-century pianism. He was a successor of the Russian piano tradition, a virtuoso with awesome technical capacities. His play was characterised by brilliant finger technique, crisp articulation (a legacy of his teacher Josef Hofmann), rhythmic discipline, and a rather restrained sound, far less emphatic than the majority of pianists of the Romantic school. Although he delighted in virtuoso encores and humorous miniatures, the greatness of Cherkassky's art was fully revealed in the major works of the piano repertoire. In his later years, he showed a tendency towards a very personal treatment of form, through the use of slow tempos (as in Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 and Liszt's Funérailles), an unheard emphasis on the left hand (Rachmaninov's Concerto No. 3), an individual shaping of the work's architecture with special emphasis on lyrical sections (Liszt's Sonata in B minor, Bach-Busoni's Chaconne, Schumann's Études symphoniques). With these novel interpretations, Cherkassky broke with tradition and joined the giants of modern piano playing, although he was accused by some critics of mannerisms and eccentricity.

Especially noteworthy was his very wide, eclectic repertoire: dominated by Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninow and Liszt, it ranged from Lully and J. S. Bach to Alban Berg's Sonata Op. 1, Ives' Three-Page Sonata, Hindemith, Shostakovich, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Bernstein and Ligeti, and even included such frivolties as miniatures of Lyadov, paraphrases by Godowski, Hofmann's virtuoso Kaleidoscope, and Chasins' Rush Hour in Hongkong.

Cherkassky held one of the longest phonographical record; he made his first recordings on piano rolls, and began acoustic recording as a teenager in 1924. Apart from officially released items, he left a large body of live recordings, broadcasts and early 78rpms; some of these were published on collectors' CDs (Pearl, Ivory), while others remain unpublished to this day. Only at the end of Cherkassky's life did wider-ranging recording series begin to appear on Decca and Nimbus.

Cherkassky was an eminent Chopinist. He saw Chopin as a fully Romantic composer, but focused on the lyrical element in his music; hence his preference for nocturnes and ballades. Cherkassky's most important Chopin recording was made for Decca (1982-5) and features Sonatas No. 2 and 3, and the Fantasy in F Minor. Full of noble poetic expression, these interpretations also show a masterly grasp of large form. Cherkassky also recorded the complete etudes, preludes, ballades and scherzos. He was one of few pianists to play works such as the Variations in B flat Op. 2, Tarantella Op. 43, and Nocturne in E Op. 62 No. 1.

Wojciech Bońkowski

August 2006 


Bibliography:
Elizabeth Carr, Shura Cherkassky: The Piano's Last Czar, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham (Maryland) 2006
Filmography (officially released items only):
In Celebration of the Piano: A Tribute to the Steinway, VAI 4328 (DVD) [includes the complete version of Josef Hofmann's Kaleidoscope]

 
Shura Cherkassky in Youtube:
Cherkassky Shura Ballade in F major,
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Cherkassky Shura Etude in A flat major, Op. 10 No. 10
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Cherkassky Shura Etude in A flat major, Op. 25 No. 1
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02:26
Cherkassky Shura Etude in A minor, Op. 10 No. 2
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01:30
Cherkassky Shura Etude in A minor, Op. 25 No. 11
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03:33
Cherkassky Shura Etude in A minor, Op. 25 No. 4
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01:49
Cherkassky Shura Etude in B minor, Op. 25 No. 10
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03:44
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1
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02:05
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 7
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01:33
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C minor, Op. 10 No. 12
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02:40
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C minor, Op. 25 No. 12
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02:43
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C sharp minor,
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04:38
Cherkassky Shura Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 10 No. 4
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02:07
Cherkassky Shura Etude in D flat major, Op. 25 No. 8
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01:09
Cherkassky Shura Etude in E flat major, Op. 10 No. 11
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02:11
Cherkassky Shura Etude in E flat minor, Op. 10 No. 6
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04:20
Cherkassky Shura Etude in E major, Op. 10 No. 3
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04:34
Cherkassky Shura Etude in E minor, Op. 25 No. 5
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03:18
Cherkassky Shura Etude in F major, Op. 10 No. 8
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02:32
Cherkassky Shura Etude in F major, Op. 25 No. 3
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01:50
Cherkassky Shura Etude in F minor, Op. 10 No. 9
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02:22
Cherkassky Shura Etude in F minor, Op. 25 No. 2
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01:26
Cherkassky Shura Etude in G flat major, Op. 10 No. 5
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01:46
Cherkassky Shura Etude in G flat major, Op. 25 No. 9
views: 11
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00:59
Cherkassky Shura Etude in G sharp minor, Op. 25 No. 6
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02:07
Cherkassky Shura Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3
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02:29
Cherkassky Shura Nocturne in D flat major,
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Cherkassky Shura Waltz in E flat major, Op. 18
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