The Virginia Philharmonic Orchestra, which began life 60 years ago as the Norfolk Symphony, is celebrating that anniversary this weekend with concerts in Newport News, Norfolk and the Kennedy Center.
Yesterday afternoon in the latter's Concert Hall, the orchestra brought in pianist Shura Cherkassky to help recreate the program played by Josef Hofmann in the Metropolitan Opera House in 1937 on the 50th anniversary of his debut in this country.
Under the baton of Russell Stanger, the program began as it had 43 years ago under Fritz Reiner, with the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms.
Then, with Cherkassky, who was one of Hofmann's students, there followed the D Minor Piano Concerto by Anton Rubinstein, a work once in great vogue. After the intermission, Cherkassky returned to play four Chopin works before proceeding with Hofmann's Chromaticon, music that the pianist published under his customary nom de plume of Michael Dvorsky.
The rest of the afternoon went to the encores played by Hofmann on that far-off evening. In bringing Cherkassky before a public most if not all of which had never heard him previously, the program gave Washington a chance to hear a remarkable kind of playing.
As Cherkassky would be the first to insist, he is not Hofmann, whom some claim to be the greatest of all pianists. (Hofmann insisted that honor was Rachmaninoff's.) No matter. Not yet 70 years old, which is young for pianists these days, Cherkassky has kept all of his formidable technique. There is the glittering finger work, the immense sound when he comes crashing down -- which he does rarely -- on the bottom keys of the piano. And there is, produced by a mechanism seldom seen these days, with fingers placed flat to a remarkable degree, a singing tone -- if one that often produced less variety in color than had been anticipated.
There were also, along with much beauty, eccentricities, erratic conceptions, and playing that verged on the cute. The orchestra worked hard to stay with the soloist in both concerted pieces.