Shura Cherkassky


Schubert Club Performances:

  • February 11, 1936
  • April 10, 1991

Shura Cherkassky

In 1936, when the 26-year-old Shura Cherkassky made his Schubert Club debut, he was already an internationally celebrated exponent of the grand tradition of Russian pianism epitomized by his teacher Josef Hofmann (Schubert Club: 1898) and embodied by such other legends as Osip Gabrilowitsch (Schubert Club: 1903), Benno Moiseiwitsch (Schubert Club debut: 1921) and Vladimir Horowitz (Schubert Club debut: 1928). By 1995, when the 86-year-old Shura Cherkassky returned to St. Paul after six decades, he had become the last relic of that golden age of Romantic piano playing. Born in Odessa, Cherkassky came to America as a 13-year-old prodigy and studied for ten years with Hofmann at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. What he got from Hofmann, wrote piano authority Harold C. Schonberg, was “the ability to project a singing tone, never producing an ugly sound; the ability, common to Romantic pianists but now almost a lost art, to move the basses and to search out meaningful inner voices; and the trick of constant fluctuation of tempo without ever losing the basic meter.” Those qualities, along with his extraordinary facility, broad palette of colors, depth of tone and often breathtaking spontaneity, can be savored in this live performance of the Chopin Preludes from Salzburg in 1968:

After the war, various record labels began preserving Cherkassky’s artistry, but it is only from the last years of his unusually long career that we have videos of his recitals and concerts. Though often of substandard technical quality, these are invaluable documents. Here, six months before his death in 1995, he could still climb the Everest of Romantic piano music, Liszt’s Sonata, which formed the centerpiece of his 1936 Schubert Club recital:

Here we can watch him perform Busoni’s arrangement of the Bach Chaconne:

And here he plays Kaleidoscope, a showpiece by his teacher Josef Hofmann:

Artist Note by Richard Evidon

From the Schubert Club Archive:

Program from Cherkassky’s 1936 concert at People’s Church in Saint Paul

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A photograph of Cherkassky signed by the pianist himself in 1991. The note reads: “For the Schubert Club in very pleasant remembrance of my recital here.”

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