previous offerings on Naxos: Rachmaninov
(mixed reactions) and Shostakovich
(more positive), have been at the
very least stimulating. His Schubert/Godowsky
disc on Marco Polo also had positive
qualities. Here, entering a massively
crowded field, he presents his take
on Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto, coupled
with the Third Concerto. The material
of the Third Concerto originates in
an intended symphony that the composer
began in late 1891. The Andante and
Finale, Op. 79 constitutes a reworking
of the second and third movements of
that symphony. The revision and scoring
was undertaken by Taneyev after Tchaikovsky’s
death, being published in 1897.
First, to the war-horse
of all war-horses. Huge competition
here, of course, and everyone will have
their own favourites. Scherbakov is
highly unlikely to dislodge any of them.
The famous opening of the concerto sets
the scene for the rest of the performance.
The Russian Philharmonic is workaday
in approach, while Scherbakov is rather
‘plonky’ with his chords. There is a
fairly easy flow, but as the movement
progresses, excitement remains a fairly
infrequent visitor. Witness the famous
double-octaves (around 10’20), here
careful, ever aware of the all-hearing
microphones; does Scherbakov let his
hair down here in live performance,
I wonder? If the cadenza includes fair
fantasy and some undeniably excellent
trills, it does not vindicate Scherbakov’s
generally pedestrian overview.
The saving grace of
the second movement is the orchestral
contribution to the Prestissimo. They
play against Scherbakov’s Czerny-like
figures. The finale generally inspires
one of two approaches, dance-like or
Klaviertigerisch. Scherbakov, oddly,
sits on the fence as if not sure how
to play it - in both senses. The result
is curiously devoid of any real emotion.
The great orchestral build-up to the
pianist’s final octaves does
go well, Yablonsky timing it well. However
the octaves themselves lack drive; definitely
a case of too little, too late. The
final sprint is acceptable, no more,
with little fire and even less wit.
Interesting that the
Third Concerto elicits the best from
Scherbakov - the whole disc we recorded
in one set of sessions over four days
- see title. The playful and the lyric
find themselves in concordance here.
Scherbakov even produces some truly
beautiful scales (around 10’30) and
he regularly gives great attention to
the shaping of left-hand accompaniments.
It is a pity that the recording adds
an edge to the piano tone over forte;
it would be interesting to compare an
SACD version of the same recording.
The Andante and
Finale, Op. 79 makes up the rest.
The serious, rich opening to the Andante
makes for rewarding listening, as does
the dreamy entrance of the soloist.
Again, pluses and minuses, as the cello
sound comes out as scratchy - yet Scherbakov’s
quasi-extempore passage around 7’00
is just the thing. More swings and roundabouts
in the Finale, where the violent, bangy
opening emerges as really quite un-Tchaikovskian;
yet the cadenza is quite impressive.
Not really memorable,
then, unless one is tracking Scherbakov’s
career. The Third Concerto may not inspire,
but it may give fair pleasure. The First
Concerto does neither.
see also review
by Paul Shoemaker