MUSIC REVIEW : Pianist Shura Cherkassky Returns

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Quirky, old-fashioned, highly personal and brilliantly colored, the pianism of Shura Cherkassky reminds us of an age when keyboard celebrities actually had distinct personalities, and none of them sounded like another.

Those days--the early decades of this century--are gone, but Cherkassky, now 78, remains. Returning to Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena on Thursday night, the Odessa-born musician demonstrated again the glory of old times.

It was not as deep, stormy or kaleidoscopic a demonstration as one might have hoped, or as Cherkassky himself has given here in the past. The petite pianist limited his repertory to one masterpiece and four charming trifles, adding two more miniatures as encores after the program proper. He did not deal in revelations this time around. Or in startling insights into the post-Romantic era.

For all the wealth of detail and the touching moments Cherkassky brought to Schumann's massive Fantasy, Opus 17, his cherishable performance fell far short of the monumental.

Instead of creating dramatic heights, martial thunder and poetic self-communion in these contrasting movements, the pianist settled for intimations and indications of such. He did not conquer the territory so much as he walked over it. Not surprisingly, our handkerchiefs remained unused.

But he caressed the living daylights out of Tchaikovsky's exquisite Theme and Variations in F, Handel's "Harmonious Blacksmith" (the odd program-opener), Rachmaninoff's G-minor Barcarolle, and his two encores, a sexy and insinuating Tango in D by Albeniz-Godowsky and a straight-faced Tarantella of Chopin.

And he romped gamely, if with more than a fair share of clinkers, through the innocent rhetoric and naive charms of Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody.

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