Chopin: Nocturnes; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Waltzes, Opp. 18 & 64/2; Scherzo No. 2; Scherzo No. 4; Étude, Op. 10/3

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Nocturnes; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Waltzes, Opp. 18 & 64/2; Scherzo No. 2; Scherzo No. 4; Étude, Op. 10/3
PERFORMER: Shura Cherkassky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4057-2 ADD/DDD
So much has been made of Shura Cherkassky’s puckish unpredictability that one feels almost disappointed to find him playing more or less by the book, as it were. In an anthology of public performances such as this, ranging over 18 years, one can expect him pretty well to box the compass, as indeed he does. Erratic he certainly was, not only from one performance to another, as pointed out by Bryce Morrison in his loving but cautionary booklet note, but often within a single performance. True to form, there’s no piece here in which the mercurial master doesn’t leave us with at least one unsuspected jewel of beauty or insight, and some, like the F minor, D flat and E minor Nocturnes, are almost consistently inspired (though Chopin would have howled at some of the rhythmic liberties).

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Cherkassky’s performances were nearly always voyages of discovery, for himself almost as much as for his listeners. Unselfconscious and almost aggressively unintellectual, he would often take up a phrase and examine it with the fascinated curiosity of a child encountering an unfamiliar toy, while managing at the same time to achieve a long-term continuity of line, harmonic as well as melodic, which almost gave the impression of a piece being unfurled within the span of a single breath. Eccentric and wilful he may have been, but I know of no pianist who couldn’t, given the will, learn valuable lessons from this uneven but often engrossing compilation. Jeremy Siepmann