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.
Coming down after the twin high-water marks of It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy shifted strategy a bit for their fourth album, Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black. By and large, they abandon the rich, dense musicality of Planet, shifting toward a sleek, relentless, aggressive attack -- Yo! Bum Rush the Show by way of the lessons learned from Millions. This is surely a partial reaction to their status as the Great Black Hope of rock & roll; they had been embraced by a white audience almost in greater numbers than black, leading toward rap-rock crossovers epitomized by this album's leaden, pointless remake of "Bring the Noise" as a duet with thrash metallurgists Anthrax. It also signals the biggest change here -- the transition of the Bomb Squad to executive-producer status, leaving a great majority of the production to their disciples, the Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk. This isn't a great change, since the Public Enemy sound has firmly been established, giving the new producers a template to work with, but it is a notable change, one that results in a record with a similar sound but a different feel: a harder, angrier, determined sound, one that takes its cues from the furious anger surging through Chuck D's sociopolitical screeds. And this is surely PE's most political effort, surpassing Millions through the use of focused, targeted anger, a tactic evident on Planet. Yet it was buried there, due to the seductiveness of the music.
Here, everything is on the surface, with the bluntness of the music hammering home the message. Arriving after two records where the words and music were equally labyrinthine, folding back on each other in dizzying, intoxicating ways, it is a bit of a letdown to have Apocalypse be so direct, but there is no denying that the end result is still thrilling and satisfying, and remains one of the great records of the golden age of hip-hop.
Michael Tilson Thomas' fondness for and dedication to American music is well known and much admired, and many of the recordings he has made over four decades demonstrate how deep and abiding is his affection.
Unfortunately, this release featuring a 2005 performance of Charles Ives' Holidays Symphony and a 2007 performance of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring are not among his best work. The Holidays Symphony sounds very long, very dull, and not very well held together; the opening "Washington's Birthday" is gray and flaccid, and the concluding "Thanksgiving and Forefather's Day" is flabby and interminable. Better is the original 13-instrument version of Appalachian Spring; Tilson Thomas invests some light, some color, and some movement in the proceedings.
Oddly, the work sounds not just more acerbic in its more leanly scored version, it sounds positively aggressive. Some of the fast dances sound more like they come from West Side Story than from Appalachia; strangely without emotional affect, the slower dances, particularly the variations on the Shaker hymn, sound almost enervated. Though there are no mistakes here -- Tilson Thomas clearly knows what he's doing and the San Francisco musicians would surely follow him to hell and back -- there is not much to recommend, either. The sound is two-dimensional and gritty.