Cherkassky’s Charismatic Chopin Concertos

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

Shura Cherkassky’s pliable technique and irrepressible imagination are at their best in these two previously unreleased BBC airings of the two Chopin concertos from 1981 and 1983. Indeed, the pianist sounds far younger than someone in his early 70s. Even Cherkassky’s most capricious changes in accentuation and dynamics still manage to illuminate the poetic surface charm characterizing Chopin’s decorative passagework, such as the frequent diminuendos at phrase ends.

Despite Christopher Aday’s sluggish accompaniment in the E minor, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s first-desk soloists enjoy welcome prominence, helped by the detailed recording from Glasgow’s Broadcasting House. However, the performance is pitched nearly a half-step flat, in E-flat minor, which partly explains the concerto’s unusually long total timing of 43 minutes. Fortunately, the Royal Albert Hall F minor concerto plays at pitch, and boasts a more disciplined orchestral framework under Richard Hickox’s leadership.

While Cherkassky dispatches the Allegro vivace’s coda with enchanting vivacity and wit—if not quite the “breathtaking speed” claimed in the booklet notes—he really takes triumphant risks in the Larghetto, where his pronounced rubatos never spill over into crudeness, and where the minor-key octave outbursts manage to be both fiery and controlled at the same time. That said, I prefer Cherkassky’s equally colorful yet more straightforward and sonically vivid mid-’60s studio traversal featuring extraordinary orchestral support from Rudolf Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic. In the meantime, let’s hope that ICA will correct the First Concerto’s pitch problem.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concertos 1 & 2: Argerich/Dutoit (EMI), Perahia/Mehta (Sony), Kupiec/Skrowaczewski (Oehms Classics)

    Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21
  • Cherkassky, Shura (piano)
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Aday; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox

Share This Review: