Shura Cherkassky / Leopold Godowsky
Dal Segno DSPRC D051
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Shura Cherkassky is in his element here. A master of pianistic fantasy, he, Midas-like, transforms everything he touches into musical gold. Not the least of the wonders of this offering is the fact that, despite his pianism sounding like that of a mature, arrived master, Cherkassky was still a teenager when making these piano rolls. I cannot too highly praise his playing.
Listen, for instance, to his account of Tchaikowsky’s Song without Words, a miniature routinely murdered by legions of earnest, untalented school girls and boys. Here, its oh-so-hackneyed measures flash into enchanting life.
Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R, too, with its magical lift to the phrase, seduces the ear as does Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase, where astounding fleetness of finger, perfectly finished, rippling arabesques and wondrous tonal colourings make this fiendishly difficult work sound ridiculously easy.
Cherkassky’s name is frequently spelled incorrectly as Cherkassy!
Leopold Godowsky is in another class; his playing had an emotional depth that Cherkassky never reached. He gives a wondrous account of Mozkowski’s Polonaise in D in playing that is informed by a superb hauteur. From the opening fanfare-type flourishes, it is clear we are in the presence of a master although his rubato sounds excessive to early 21st-century tastes. Schumann’s Traumerei, too, is mined for every subtlety in a reading that points up detail after exquisite detail, fascinating listening despite now-quaint-sounding rubato.
Godowsky is in wonderful form in Henselt’s little Lullaby with a glorious right hand melody that would surely tempt the grumpiest bird from a twig. This and the same composer’s La Gondola are so beautifully essayed that, at least for the duration of the playing, we forget what cheap stuff it is. Godowsky’s rhythmic liberties in Chopin’s Three Ecossaises sound mannered but his account of Ballade in G minor is frankly thrilling. Here, Godowsky reaches for the stars, building up to magnificent climaxes with a brilliance that takes the breath away – and ascending octave passages at a speed that would have had other virtuosos nervously looking to their laurels. At its most powerful, the playing is incandescently persuasive.