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Ivory Classics Music

Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings

Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings

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Ivory Classics CD-72003(2CDs)
Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921):

Piano: Shura Cherkassky
Piano: Steinway
(ADD) Remastered using 24-Bit State-of-the-Art Technology - HDCD Encoded

Executive and Remastering Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
Transfer and Remastering Engineers: Ed Thompson and Victor Ledin

Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995), as a pupil of the legendary Josef Hofmann, was imbued in the nineteenth-century tradition of Romantic piano playing. His recordings and performances are testaments to an art form that few could master. In this 2-CD set, Ivory Classics presents Cherkassky's recordings made during the 1940s. Compiled and restored for the first time, using state-of-the-art technology, this two-disc release also includes a lavishly illustrated and annotated 28-page booklet. This new release is a must for all lovers and collectors of piano playing in the grand tradition.


Few pianists have proved more feline or elusive than Cherkassky. Wary of the studios - their chill scrutiny and the absence of an audience - he was happiest when caught 'on the wing', conversing, as it were, in his inimitable way with those who relished every note of his transcendental and impishly subversive pianism. Yet if it is true that Ivory Classics' earlier issue of his 1982 San Francisco Recital shows Cherkassky in all his glory - his Quixotic mix of high camp and charisma - their two-disc set of his 1940 recordings is scarcely less memorable. Whatever sparkles and enchants is here in profusion, whether in the scintillating triplet whirl of the Prelude from Saint-Saens' Prelude and Fugue? or the Rachmaninov Polka where his peek-a-boo pianism (now you hear this voice? now you don't) teases the life out of pages of mock-polyphony. Liadov's Musical Snuffbox peters out with a magical sense of evocation and Morton Gould's Prelude and Toccata is a stunning display of sly wit and timing. You will rarely hear the final cascades in Chopin's Second Impromptu reeled off with such glistening insouciance or encounter a more intriguing way with the Fantaisie-impromptu. Best of all, in the same composer's Fantaisie, Cherkassky is so subtle and acute that you seem to hear this masterpiece for the first time, constantly alerted to voices and textures, angles and perspectives undreamed of by less audacious or exploratory artists. Of course, you may claim that the impact of Cherkassky's arsenal of details and effects undermines an epic structure such as Brahms's Third Sonata (frisky, even garrulous in the Andante sostenuto, super-charged in an un-Brahmsian way in the Scherzo). Yet even here everything is fascinating and compulsive. His Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Rebikov are of the most beguiling poetry and inwardness and if his way with Chopin's A flat Polonaise is hardly for those who value dignity above exuberance it is still tirelessly inventive. Yet if forced to choose the 'essential' Cherkassky, I would opt for that 1982 recital, 'live' in every sense of the word and so delightfully without a care for stale custom or received wisdom. No more scintillating performance of Chopin's A flat Waltz, Op 42, with its mix of duple and triple rhythm, exists; the Lully is mesmeric and the Tchaikovsky G major Sonata - where Cherkassky mischievously stands everything on its head, going off at ever wilder tangents as this or that passing detail catches his fancy - is an astonishing recreation. Ivory Classics' presentation is superb and even includes a photograph of the formidable-looking Mrs. Eugenie Blanc, Cherkassky's wife for a hilariously brief period. So here is a cornucopia of offerings shot through with genius, though with his bemused comment, 'I just play the way I play' as a useful and modest rejoinder.

Gramophone, May. 2002

A group of works Cherkassky recorded in mid-career for American Vox and the Swedish Cupol labels in the 1940s have remained among his least familiar discs (they weren't even re-released on LP) - until now when the complete run shows up on Ivory Classics. For sheer color it would be hard to beat these performances - these are some of the most beguiling studio recordings the pianist ever made. It's hard to imagine any keyboard aficionado who won't want to own them. Also included on this double CD is a later Vox reading of the Brahms Third Sonata, as well as a clutch of Cherkassky's early HMV recordings. These selections also boast the same dazzling variety of articulation and hue found in the earlier recordings. This is playing of consistently seductive imagination. Ivory Classic's lavish presentation is complete with a rich collection of photographs.

Fanfare Magazine, Oct. 2001

This excellent duo of CDs contains the same collection of early Vox and Swedish Cupol label recordings as on Pearl's 'Piano Masters' series that Cherkassky made in 1946 and 1949. In addition to these rare and wonderful bonbons by Khachaturian, Shostakovitch, Liadov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Rebikov, Glinka,Scriabin and Medtner etc., Ivory Classics also gives us the HMV historic 1940s recordings. Disc 1 begins with Saints-Saens 'Prelude and Fugue in F minor' in which the repeated chords of the Prelude shimmer delightfully at all dynamic levels from pianissimo through to fortissimo and the following Fugue sweeps along energetically with some brilliant octave playing. Cherkassky's Brahms Sonata in F minor {a Vox recording} is also full of youthful passion, exuberance and grandeur. The Liszt 'Liebestraume'{Electrola } is played with Cherkassky's full-throated cantabile and the HMV Chopin selection consists of: two Mazurkas, performed with a delightful feeling for their rhythmical dance origins - the second Impromptu in F sharp major played with Cherkassky's ravishing singing tone; the right hand scale passages fairly sparkle, as do those in the famous 'Fantasie - Impromptu;' Chopin's great Fantasie in F minor and two Etudes Op.10 {No: 12 & 4} which end disc 2 are brilliantly executed. Some critics have found Cherkassky's playing to be either 'willful or mannered'. On the contrary, these 1940s recordings are full of character and imagination - a quality that is in short supply these days! Purchase this Ivory Classics two CD set their transfers are very good and their booklet is exemplary. Not only does it give detailed biographical notes of Cherkassky and all the composers featured but it also includes a fascinating selection of very rare photos of the great pianist as a boy and also at the time these recordings were made. I particularly like the photos taken of Cherkassky seated at the keyboard in his Hollywood home and one taken of him as a 13 year old wearing knee length boots and a large flat cap! An absolutely delightful tribute to a unique artist., Oct. 2001

Included in this collection from Ivory Classics, is Cherkassky's exceedingly rare Brahms F minor Sonata from Vox, plus 10 selections recorded for HMV. Cherkassky's preoccupation with line clarifies a great deal of detail other pianists merely slog through in the outer movements. Among the short HMV works, a thoughtful and kitsch-free Liszt Liebestraum is gorgeously voiced and perpetually sung out. Saint-Saens Prelude and Fugue in F minor Op.90, No.1 boasts stunning repeated chords, while introspective poetry and magically weighted chords characterize one of the loveliest Chopin F-sharp Impromptus recorded in the 78 era.

Classics Today, Sep. 2001

Few, if any, historic releases are as charming as Ivory Classics' Shura Cherkassky--The Historic 1940s Recordings. For Cherkassky--as for his teacher, Josef Hofmann--music was a vehicle for self-expression. Stories about Cherkassky's personal eccentricities are the stuff of legend, but he was not so much an eccentric pianist as an individualistic one. Unlike individualists of our own day, who seem to play 'differently' simply to provoke and who merely sound quirky, the miracle about Cherkassky is that he usually sounded natural. You'll surely never hear a Brahms F Minor Sonata more original than the one reissued here. In the finale, the pianist discovers inner voices whose existence would have astonished Brahms himself. But despite the pianist's interest in luscious tone, polyphonic texture, and details within individual phrases, he never loses grasp of the overall shape of the work. Much of the rest of what's contained in these two discs is simply magical. In short, familiar pieces by Chopin and Liszt and, particularly, in lesser-known works by Medtner, Rebikov, Chaminade, and Scriabin, Cherkassky's pianism evokes the elegance and melancholy of a vanished era., Sep. 2001

Now thanks to Ivory Classics, we can become familiar with what he sounded like in the 1940s. Cherkassky was a link to the 'Golden Age' pianism of Paderewski, Hofmann, De Pachmann, Godowsky, and their forebears, including Anton Rubinstein. Most of these works are short; many might be considered encores. Saint Saens exciting Prelude and Fugue in F minor opens the first CD. Cherkassky's volatile pianism is arguably just what this sonata needs. These recordings from the 1940s, were made for HMV, Vox and Swedish Cupol. 'State-of-the-art technology' was used for these restorations, including HDCD encoding and 24-bit remastering.

Classical Net Review, Jun. 2001

This happy set reinstates some of the more elusive recordings by a no less elusive artist, Russian-American pianist Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995), that mercurial, Cheshire Cat of the keyboard. The real curios from this restoration - with dreamy, quiet surfaces from Ed Thompson and Victor Ledin - are the shellacs from the Swedish Cupol label of music by Gould, Poulenc, Liszt, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. His Saint-Saens Prelude and Fugue from Op.90 has verve and a thoroughly free motor rhythm that serves just as well in Gould's Boogie-Woogie Etude, recorded while the work was still a fresh invention for Jose Iturbi. The D Major Mazurka, Op.33, No.3 is perfect. The Shostakovich C-sharp minor Prelude is a real find. So many treasures, so little time! Buy it.

Audiophile Audition, Jun. 2001

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