BBC Legends has just released a recording of a concert given by the wonderful Ukrainian-born pianist Shura Cherkassky in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1 November 1970.
This includes a performance of Schubert’s late Piano Sonata in A major, D.959, which Cherkassky recorded for the World Record Club in 1960, a recording which, sadly, has never been reissued. The hauntingly beautiful andantino movement of this sonata will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 1966 Robert Bresson film Au hazard Balthazar, set in the French Pyrenees, which follows the parallel (and much abused) lives of a farm girl and her donkey Balthazar as the latter passes through the hands of several owners.
Also on this recording are Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso in E major Op. 14, Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9 and Der Contrabandiste, and Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Cradle Song Op. 16 no. 1. It may be obtained from Presto Classical here.
Cherkassky was born in Odessa in 1909: his parents fled to the United States at the time of the Russian Revolution. He was a meticulous performer who practised for four hours every day throughout his working life and maintained a very active performance schedule, so that he was very much at home on the stage and his recordings under live conditions are some of his best. He visited Australia not long before his death in 1995, and in Melbourne gave a remarkable concert that included Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As he had by that time been performing for the best part of seventy years, and was recognised as one of the world’s great pianists, one felt a sense of being privileged to be in touch with a little bit of the history of the performing art of the piano in the twentieth century.