This morning (June 14, 2011) I played two short pieces from a live Shura Cherkassky recital, and I remembered an electrifying experience of seeing him live. In June, 1988, Steinway celebrated the construction of its 500,000 piano with a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. The advance marketing named many prestigious Steinway pianists, but as the concert date approached, it appeared that only one big name, Lazar Berman, would appear. I had eagerly bought my ticket, and I was sure the event would be memorable anyway. And it was.
Frankly, the 500,000th piano, which was brought out at the end of the evening to be played by a 9-year old, was a dog, although it looked stunning. Lazar Berman was flown in from Moscow just in time for the concert. He played two short spectacular pieces to great acclaim, and he played them in an obvious bad mood. He left for Moscow right afterwards.
The other pianists, most of them, played as if their reputation was on the line and they didn’t want to ruin anything. I got my first look at a few up-and-comings whose reputations rose in the following years, including Barbara Nissman, Stephen Hough and Jean-Ives Thibaudet.
There was one pianist among the 24 who played with verve, gusto and sheer joy: Shura Cherkassky, who had made his debut SIXTY-FIVE years before and had nothing to lose. Despite his 79 years, he bustled about the stage. In fact, during the playing of Schumann’s Carnaval, on two pianos at opposite ends of the stage – each pianist played one piece, and they alternated pianos – Cherkassky almost ran across the stage to be in time for his turn.
I was no stranger to Cherkassky, having known his recording of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. I had thought it impossible to make that piece work on piano, and his recording was stunning. At the Steinway concert, he delighted the audience with a performance of Josef Hofmann’s “Kaleidoscope.”
Here is a recording of Cherkassky playing that very piece (Ivory classics 70904, from his 1982 San Francisco recital).
One warning: if you are the kind of person who gets a fragment of music stuck in your head and has trouble making it stop, you definitely do not want to hear any performance of Kaledioscope.