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Shura Cherkassky Live, Volume 8 Mendelssohn, Bach (arr Busoni), Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov Shura Cherkassky (piano) (BBC Recordings: 1983-1986) (Decca 433 655-2)
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The Independent Culture
The late Shura Cherkassky was a magician, a poet and a terrible tease. He could deliver a whimsical, oddball and mischievously dissected set of Brahms's Paganini Variations (Book 2 only), make thistledown clouds of Mendelssohn's E minor Prelude and Fugue (the opening arpeggios seem to emerge out of the ether) or prompt Tchaikovsky's charming Theme and Variations in F to hop between salon and concert stage. Bach-Busoni is rendered larger than life, although in the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue Cherkassky eschews the expected thunder in favour of malleable phrasing, lovingly tended counterpoint and a notably songful slant to the Adagio. But the real highlight of this beautifully focused recital is Rachmaninov's last solo piano work, his Variations on a Theme of Corelli (1931).

Musically, it's a masterpiece, as versicoloured as the Paganini Rhapsody and not a tad less appealing. Cherkassky's interpretation is prodigiously comprehensive. Check out the stormier variations, and you could as well be listening to the composer himself; then, beam up to 8'50'' (on track 8) and suddenly you're in a smoky hotel bar with George Gershwin for company. Rachmaninov had finally braved the 20th century - not as a "natural", but as an immigrant dignitary being led through the city by a trusted friend. Fifty-five years on and Cherkassky, an habitual city-dweller, tells the tale as if it were his own.

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