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Shura Cherkassky (Russian: Александр (Шура) Исаакович Черкасский; 7 October 1909 – 27 December 1995) was an American classical pianist known for his performances of the romantic repertoire. His playing was characterized by a virtuoso technique and singing piano tone. For much of his later life, Cherkassky resided in Britain.
- 1 Early years
- 2 The California years
- 3 The London years
- 4 Further touring
- 5 Recordings
- 6 Discography
- 7 References
Alexander Isaakovich Cherkassky (Shura is a diminutive form of Alexander) was born in Odessa, Russian Empire (now in Ukraine) in 1909. Cherkassky's family fled to the United States to escape the Russian Revolution.
Cherkassky's first music lessons were from his mother, Lydia Cherkassky, who once played for Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg. She also taught the pianist Raymond Lewenthal. In the United States, Cherkassky continued his piano studies at the Curtis Institute of Music under Josef Hofmann. Before studying with Hofmann, however, Cherkassky auditioned for Sergei Rachmaninoff, who advised him to give up performing for at least two years and to change the position of his hands at the keyboard. Conversely, Hofmann suggested Cherkassky should continue giving concerts, and this long association with public performance meant that Cherkassky felt comfortable before an audience. Hofmann also recommended that he practice for four hours every day and Cherkassky did this religiously throughout his life, maintaining an extensive repertoire (baroque to Berio) to an exacting standard. His studies and advisory sessions with Hofmann continued until 1935. In the interim he began his lifelong obsession with world travel with trips to Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, Russia and Europe.
Cherkassky performed actively until the end of his life, and many of his best recordings were made under live concert recital conditions.
The California years
In the 1940s Cherkassky moved to California. He appeared at the Hollywood Bowl with conductors such as Sir John Barbirolli and Leopold Stokowski, and he played the sound track (Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata) for the Bette Davis 1946 film Deception. He also played Stravinsky's Three Pieces from Petrushka for the composer, who advised him to use the 'una corda' pedal for certain loud passages in order to obtain a particular special effect. Concert engagements were infrequent for Cherkassky in California during World War II.
The London years
In 1946 he married Eugenie Blanc; this marriage ended in divorce two years later. Also in 1946 he had a great success in Hamburg playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. This concert resulted in Cherkassky's popularity in Germany and Austria (Salzburg Festival) which lasted until the end of his life and confirmed him as one of the foremost pianists of the day. It was after his Wigmore Hall recital of 27 March 1957 that Cherkassky's career accelerated in the United Kingdom, and, following the death of his mother in Nice in 1961, he settled in London where he lived at The White House Hotel until his death in 1995.
His career continued to flourish with appearances at all the great concert venues of the world: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Herkulessaal in Munich, the Philharmonie in Berlin, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, at Suntory Hall in Tokyo, and also with all the world's great orchestras and conductors. Cherkassky's love of spontaneity and his dislike of a fixed standard performance meant that some conductors were reluctant to work with him. With Cherkassky, there was no guarantee that what was agreed in rehearsal would happen in concert. Cherkassky's performing career lasted for over 70 years, yet it was only in the last few decades of his life that he was recognized as one of the greatest pianists - a re-creative genius who relished spontaneity, beauty of sound and the kaleidoscopic possibilities of the piano.
Cherkassky died in London, aged 86, on 27 December 1995. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London, England.
Over seven decades of his concert career, starting in the 1920s, Cherkassky made a large number of recordings for RCA Victor, Vox, Swedish Cupol label, HMV, DG (the famous Tchaikovsky concerto recordings), Tudor, Nimbus and Decca ('live' BBC recordings). He made his last recordings at age 85, in May 1995, seven months before his death. These were a selection of Rachmaninoff's pieces to act as fillers for his recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 made the previous year.
Releases by BBC Legends
- Shura Cherkassky: Rachmaninoff / Prokofiev (BBCL4092-2)
- Shura Cherkassky: Chopin (BBCL4057-2)
- Shura Cherkassky: Beethoven, Chopin etc. (BBCL 4185-2)
- Shura Cherkassky / Sir Georg Solti: Tchaikovsky / Mussorgsky / Cherkassky (BBCL4160-2)
Releases by Decca
- Kaleidoscope - Piano Encores
- Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3 and others
Shura Cherkassky Live Series
- Vol.1:- Schubert . Chopin (433 653-2 DH)
- Vol.2:- 80th Birthday Recital from Carnegie Hall (433 654-2 DH)
- Vol.3:- Encores (433 651-2 DH)
- Vol.4:- Chopin: Sonata No.2 & 3 (433 650-2 DH)
- Vol.5:- Liszt (433 656-2 DH)
- Vol.6:- Schumann (433 652-2 DH)
- Vol.7:- Stravinsky, Scriabin, Ravel, etc. (433 657-2 DH)
- Vol.8:- Rachmaninoff, Brahms, etc. (433 655-2 DH)
- Anton Rubinstein : Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70 + Encores (448 063-2 DH)
Releases by Deutsche Grammophon
- Tchaikovsky: Klavierkonzerte Nos. 1 & 2 (457 751-2)
- Liszt: Orchestral Works (453 130-2) (Cherkassky plays Fantasia on Hungarian Folk tunes, S.123 only. The rest of the recording is performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan)
- Chopin: Polonaises
Releases by Ivory Classics
- Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings (2CD Set) (CD-72003)
- Shura Cherkassky: 1982 San Francisco Recital (CD-70904)
Releases by Nimbus
- Shura Cherkassky (1909–1995): Solo piano works by Chopin, Mussorgsky, Berg, Bernstein, Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky, Grieg and Rachmaninoff (6CD Set) (NI 1733)
- Chopin, Liszt: The B minor Sonatas (NI 7701)
- The Art of the Encore (NI 7708)
- Shura Cherkassky (1909–1995): Solo piano works by Chopin, Mussorgsky, Berg, Bernstein, Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky, Grieg and Rachmaninoff (7CD Set) (NI 1748)
- Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3, Live Gothenburg 1970, 1968 (Cembal d'amour CD155)
- Duo-Art piano roll #66919, Liebeswalzer Op.57, No.5 Moszkowski (The Aeolian Company)
- The Young Shura Cherkassky (Biddulph)
- Piano Masters:- Vol.17: Shura Cherkassky (Pearl GEM 0138)
- Shura Cherkassky plays Liszt (Testament SBT 1033)
- Shura Cherkassky (Two Volumes) (Phillips Great Pianists of the 20th Century series)
- Debussy, Clair de Lune, Shura Cherkassky, 1993 (ASV Platinum PLT 8505)
- Shura Cherkassky 'The complete HMV stereo recordings' (2CDs) (First Hand Records FHR04) - Winner of the International Piano Awards "Best Reissue/Vintage Recording of 2009". Diapson D'OR, 10/2010
- http://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/01/arts/the-poetry-and-grandeur-of-shura-cherkassky.html?pagewanted=all "now an American citizen who lives in London"
- Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present, Simon & Schuster, Second Edition (1987)