Shura Cherkassky is of a vanishing breed of "old school" pianists whose style and musicianship are, for whatever reasons, missing from many younger artists. His appearance last night at the University of Maryland International Piano Festival was an all-around treat, with grand selections played in dazzling fashion.
A pupil of the legendary Josef Hofmann, Cherkassky's idiosyncrasies are by now legend. He sits almost on top of the keyboard; his hands are oddly curled above the keys; the soft pedal gets a full workout when he plays. Yet from all this comes a brilliant tone, fiery finger work and fluid line beyond comparison.
The evening's large work was Schumann's "Kreisleriana," which used an infinite variety of dynamics and attacks, from the remarkably hushed opening notes to the perfect staccato of the elfin theme. The cantabile melodies and blustery scale passages all offered stupendous skill and emotional bearing.
Grieg's lovely Sonata in E minor, Op. 7, demonstrated the same exacting touch, and the lush postromantic transcriptions of music by Tchaikovsky and Strauss proved effortless. The upper register was transformed into bells; the crashing octaves sounded like multiple pianos.
Just as amazing was the reading of Leonard Bernstein's "Touches," in which the contemporary language seemed as romantic as the remainder of the program.