Unlike Vladimir Horowitz, who generally only ever recorded for RCA Victor or Columbia, pianist Shura Cherkassky, sometimes called "The Last of the Great Piano Romantics" in his later years, left a grab bag legacy of recordings ranging from his 78 rpm 1929 HMVs to his final Nimbus Records releases and live recitals, recorded by UK Decca, in the 1980s and '90s. This First Hand Remasters issue, Shura Cherkassky: The Complete HMV Stereo Recordings, collects a specific part of that legacy into a single package. It is not appropriate to refer to it as a reissue as these recordings date between 1956 and 1958 and though made entirely in stereo, the stereo LP itself did not make its bow until the very end of that timeline; even afterward, EMI observed a policy of issuing most of its recordings in mono only. So very little of this material appeared on stereo even on LPs, and very little of it has appeared on CD. From the standpoint of a package, this First Hand Remasters release is everything it should be; the two-disc set is fully documented and comes with good writing and a decent-sized book, which is tempered nevertheless by practical economics. It's overall run time of just under two hours may strike some as a little stingy, but that naturally is dictated by the material itself. The recordings, taken from the first generation stereo masters in the EMI vaults, are excellent though very occasionally some flutter is audible.
The program is very wide ranging and reflects Cherkassky's interests, running from Chopin at one end to George Gershwin and some selections from Abram Chasins' rarely recorded music at the other. About the only issue with this recording might be a subjective one; despite the "Last of the Great Piano Romantics" tag, Cherkassky's playing here is always very clean, straightforward, and well-balanced and he never goes out on a limb in terms of expression. The annotators conclude that this period represents Cherkassky's best work, and it may, but those familiar with his late recordings will note that there are far more instances of risk-taking in that body of work than here. Nevertheless, Cherkassky's fan base will definitely take interest in this, as it provides so much elusive material on this pianist in better sound than ever before, not to mention being generally well done and well worth its value.