Stephen Hough
Stephen Hough
Stephen Hough

Writings

Shura Cherkassky: Obituary

Shura CherkasskyWhen most people die we feel like the lights have been switched off. With Shura Cherkassky it's more like lights being turned on - for the concert is now over. The final encore has been played, the stage is bare, the flowers are already withering, and the seats are vacant under the harsh house lights.

Artur Schnabel once said, explaining why he would never play encores, that applause was a receipt not a bill; for Cherkassky it was more an invitation to open a bottle of champagne. Each encore was like a fluted glass which was transparently transformed into a vehicle for bubbling bravura, or, perhaps, for a gentle, amber nostalgia. Dinner may be over, but when an audience has changed in the course of an evening from customers to friends, who can be in a hurry to say goodbye?

Sadly, that is what we have to do, although no one who heard him play or met him will ever forget his unique personality, both on and off the stage. His golden tone, like sunshine melting a bowl of the richest ice-cream (two of his 'favourite things'); his contrapuntal voicing, like a child wandering into all the rooms he's been banned from; or, for that matter, his walk to the piano - as if treading on crushed velvet. We will try to keep our memories fresh with his recordings (particularly the 'live' ones), and will treasure amongst ourselves the many anecdotes which have now become part of musical folklore.

Although he never taught ("I wouldn't know how"), perhaps we can all learn from him the lesson that elegance and entertainment have their place in the concert hall as well as education and elevation; and that there is no shame in loving and cherishing the piano for its own sake.

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Stephen Hough