Tag Archives: Rachmaninov

The Great Pianists



Shura Cherkassky / Leopold Godowsky

Dal Segno DSPRC D051

TPT: 60’10”

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.

Original Transcriptions for Piano



Cameron Roberts (piano)

TTP: 63’00”



Goldberg Variations (Bach)

Cameron Roberts (piano)

TTP: 68’00”



reviewed by Neville Cohn


MCD404 is one of the most satisfying recordings I’ve heard in some time. It brims with good things.


All the transcriptions on this CD are by Cameron Roberts himself. Certainly, he shapes to the demands of whatever he plays like fine wine to a goblet. His taste is impeccable, his physical command of the piano is remarkable. Refinement of style  informs every moment of this recording.


Vivaldi’s Summer from The Four Seasons is a high point of this collection with Roberts working wonders with this much loved work. Magically silvery tone in the high treble informs the second movement which is transcribed and played with such artistry as to assume an identity that is quite unique and able to stand proudly in its own right. At its most extrovert, the playing has a Lisztian grandeur.


Roberts’ version of Rachmaninov’s song How Beautiful it is Here! is given marvellously lyrical treatment, each note clothed in gorgeous cantabile tone. The same composer’s The Morn of Life, Sleep is a model of introspection.


Is there a more hackneyed work in the American canon than Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue? Here, though, Roberts demonstrates a mastery of style and an heroic physical command of the instrument which, at climaxes, generates massive waves of noble sound. Bravo!


The Largo ma no tanto from Bach’s Concerto for two violins is another gem which leaves little doubt that Roberts is a born Bach interpreter; this offering cannot be faulted.


Tchaikowsky’s 1812 overture runs for more than a quarter hour – and every moment of it makes for thrilling listening.


This compilation is a stunningly fine example of the transcriber’s art.


ROBERTS  is in Olympian form in Bach’s Goldberg Variations which comes across as a chaplet of near-faultlessly fashioned pianistic gems. Variation 8, for instance, has a delightfully spiky, buoyant quality, Variation 10 is memorable for its emphatic rhythms – and there’s a wondrous clarity and control in Variation 11. Variation 12 is in the best sense danceable – and the bold, abruptly peremptory quality of Variation 16 could hardly have been bettered. A dainty, graceful account of Variation 17 makes for sheerly beautiful listening – and the intricate delicacy of Roberts playing in the20th variation calls finest Brussels lace to mind.


There’s no lack of virtuosity when called for: Variation 23 is given refreshingly forthright treatment – and Variation 23 is informed by fantastic agility and precision.  Variation 30, though, calls for a more paean-like quality.


A bonus takes the form of three transcriptions of Bach originals: Aus liebe from the St Matthew Passion comes across as an essay in achingly poignant terms – and the darkly bodeful despair that is the essence of Es ist Vollbracht from the St John Passion is as much an instance of the transcribers art at its highest as it is a profoundly probing interpretation.