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Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G major, Op.44 (1879-80) [40:39]
Concert Fantasy in G major, Op.56 (1885) [28:20]
Konstantin Sherbakov (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, 5-9 May 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557824 [69:00]

The once rare Second Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky now boasts a pretty impressive list of advocates on disc. Readers need to be aware that my own loyalty has always been with a 1960s Melodiya recording – at the moment unavailable – featuring Igor Zhukov as soloist with Rozhdestvensky conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. Even with some less-than-tidy orchestral support in places, that version has a sweep and bravura that this piece needs to succeed. I do tend to prefer Soviet soloists here, so among recent versions I rate Pletnev (Virgin), Leonskaya (Apex) and Postnikova (Ultima) - all inexpensively priced - slightly above the much-praised Donohoe on EMI.
This brings us to the excellent Konstantin Sherbakov, a pianist who’s made waves on Naxos with a number of virtuoso showpieces, including some Godowsky and indeed the Tchaikovsky First Concerto. He certainly has the requisite technique and displays some really barnstorming pianism throughout. The opening orchestral tutti nicely sets up the mood, with plenty of gusto and a healthy tempo. Sherbakov’s first entry is slightly lumpy rhythmically, almost as if he’s so desperate to get on with things that he leaves the orchestra in his wake, but he does settle down soon enough. The first big cadenza (7:43) shows what he’s made of, and whilst he can’t equal Zhukov here, there’s a marvellously controlled abandon at work, the sort of thing Argerich is so good at. He does at one point put in some questionable accents during those whirlwind glissando runs - they’re not in the score, and no other pianist does it on disc – but it’s undeniably exciting. The second, and even harder, cadenza (around 15:05) has a veritable torrent of notes that Sherbakov tosses off as child’s play.
The lovely ‘triple concerto’ slow movement is most affecting, and thankfully played virtually complete, with just a small composer-sanctioned snip towards the end. Indeed, it’s good to note that the old severely truncated Siloti version definitely seems a no-no these days. This movement is one of Tchaikovsky’s finest inspirations (note that Donohoe is joined here by Kennedy and Isserlis!) and Sherbakov’s colleagues compliment him very nicely. The finale rips along with authentic Slavic dash, rounding off a very fine performance.
The Concert Fantasy Op.56 is the well chosen filler, same key and far more than an encore at nearly half-an-hour. It is said to have been inspired by the playing of Eugen d’Albert and was a favourite of Gilels for a while. It’s full of the composer’s thumbprints, with a very Russian opening theme and a second movement that derives its melodic material from rejected sketches of his Suite No.3. The brilliant closing section restates the opening motif in true Tchaikovskian fashion, and this team of players clearly enjoy it.
The recording is generally fine, with plenty of depth and detail, and Keith Anderson’s notes are useful. Though my existing loyalties aren’t particularly swayed, this new one has to be a contender as a modern digital recording in the Naxos price band: bear in mind that all the best competition is just as cheap, so this one could depend on choice of fillers. If you’re the sort of casual buyer Naxos often gets, or just fancy investigating the repertoire, this will serve you very well.
Tony Haywood


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