The remarkable Russian-born American pianist, Shura (Alexander Isaakovich) Cherkassky, began piano training with his mother. While still a child, he was taken by his family to the USA, where he continued his studies with Josef Hofmann at the newly founded Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. After making his debut in Baltimore at the age of 11, he appeared as a soloist with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra and performed at the White House in Washington, D.C. in 1923.
Shura Cherkassky made his first tour abroad in 1928 with visits to Australia and South Africa. Although he also made a few recordings during the 1920's and 1930's, his career did not really take off until after World War II. By that time, the pianists, like Hofmann, who had learned from the 19th century greats Liszt, Moszkowski, and others, were no longer around. Following a major tour of Europe in 1946, he moved to London. Cherkassky was acknowledged as the heir of that particular school of performance, and just as Franz Liszt and the others had had their own idiosyncrasies, he had his own individual style that seemed to give fresh meaning to everything he played. He toured almost continually around the world during his career, making some time nearly every year to take a holiday in Thailand. He made a successful debut in Russia in 1976 and returned for subsequent tours in 1977 and 1987. He gave many recitals at New York's 92nd Street Y, which honoured him in 1986 with the establishment of the Shura Cherkassky Recital Award to be given annually to a gifted young pianist. On December 2, 1991, he celebrated his 80th year with a recital at New York's Carnegie Hall in a program of works by Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin, Bach-Busoni, Tchaikovsky-Pabst, Josef Hofmann, and well-received encores.
As one of the last representatives of the hallowed Romantic school of piano virtuosity, Shura Cherkassky regaled audiences with a bravura technique and singing tone in the grand Russian manner. He combined Romantic sensitivity of touch with the power of a modern player, and he traveled easily between works by the Romantics and those by Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith, Pierre Boulez, and Ligeti. This blend of talents served him well, particularly in works such as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Most of Shura Cherkassky's recordings were made later in his life and cover most of his Romantic repertoire. The best representations of his work can be found on the Decca and Nimbus labels.