RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30.  PROKOFIEV:  Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16.
Shura Cherkassky, pianist; BBC Symphony Orch/Rudolf Schwarz, (Rachmaninoff); London Philharmonic Orch/Kent Nagano, cond. (Prokofiev)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4092 (F) (ADD) TT:  76:09

Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) unfortunately has a somewhat limited discography so this BBC issue of live performances from the Proms (Rachmaninoff, Dec 11, 1957; Prokofiev, May 2, 1991) are of enormous interest—even though the Rachmnaninoff does not show the pianist in his finest form. Jonathan Summers' fine notes (except for incorrect birth date for the pianist) go into some detail about this performance of Rachmaninoff's Third, quoting a reviewer of the time as saying, "Mr. Cherkassky's playing.....was so extravagant that it made anything like synchronous accompaniment impossible, so that the finale was a shambles, which Mr. Schwarz with his loose beat was unable to clear up."  No question that the pianist was in a quixotic mood, with rubato applied throughout, details in the solo part usually in the background brought to the fore—and more than a few missed notes.  It's easy to understand why Schwarz couldn't always hold it together (the final pages, indeed, are a shambles); but could any conductor with such a willful soloist to deal with?  Cherkassky plays the shorter of the first-movement cadenzas, and there are a few of the usual cuts as well.

Summers' notes also mention that one of Cherkassky's first recordings was Prokofiev's Second Concerto, in 1956 for EMI. At that time this concerto was seldom played; it was adventuresome for Cherkassky to schedule and record it. He was 81 when this BBC concert performance was recorded, still in full command of his virtuosity—much more controlled than he was decades earlier when he played the Rachmaninoff. His performance is not the super-brilliant showpiece it can be in the hands of Volodos or Kissin, but of great interest to collectors.  As usual, the BBC sound is excellent. Admirers of Cherkassky won't want to miss this disk.

R.E.B. (July 2002)