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Shura Cherkassky, 84; Virtuoso Pianist

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Pianist Shura Cherkassky, whose small frame made his virtuosity seem all the more dazzling, has died in a London hospital. He was 84.

Cherkassky, who had undergone surgery a month earlier, died of respiratory complications Wednesday.

He played concerts frequently in Los Angeles in the 1940s. When he performed at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in 1942, a Times music critic noted that Cherkassky played the national anthem “with such dignity and conviction that all the banners of the United Nations seemed to be waving before our eyes.

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“He held a capacity audience of the sophisticated fascinated,” she wrote, “by his ability to color, control and bandy notes about in totally unexpected dynamic combinations.”

When Cherkassky performed here two decades later, another Times reviewer praised his “formidable technique, which is startling even in this day when rampant virtuosity is almost a commonplace.”

Cherkassky, who was ranked alongside Ignace Jan Paderewski, Vladimir Horowitz and Josef Hofmann, gave his first recital in 1923 in Baltimore.

The previous year, he and his musician parents had fled to Baltimore from the Black Sea city of Odessa to escape the Russian civil war.

In 1924, Sergei Rachmaninoff invited Cherkassky to play for him in New York. Impressed, Rachmaninoff offered to teach the boy if Cherkassky would stop playing in public until he was older.

His mother was not convinced this was best, so she took him to Hofmann, a former child prodigy. Hofmann told him, “If you have it in your blood, don’t stop,” and Cherkassky went to study with him at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute.

Cherkassky kept a punishing schedule throughout his career. He marked his 80th birthday with an international tour and gave his final concert last year in Paris.

He practiced with great discipline but for no more than four hours a day.

“Hofmann said if you can’t do it in four hours, you can’t do it at all. And he was right,” he told an interviewer.

Cherkassky married actress Genia Ganz in 1946. The marriage ended after two stormy years and he remained single the rest of his life.

He and his mother moved to Nice in southern France, where he revived his European career. After his mother died in 1961 he moved to London. Cherkassky lived for the last 17 years at a hotel in northwest London.

In the 1980s, he recorded much of his repertory with a small company, Nimbus, in Wales. A Decca issue of his recitals with the BBC followed.


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