Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major Op.26 (1921) [29.14]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in G major Op.55 (1932) [24.42]
Alexander Gavrylyuk (piano)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. The Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 2009
The review is of the SACD layer.

This hybrid SACD is short measure at a little under 54 minutes. The booklet has good notes in Japanese and English.

Alexander Gavrylyuk is one of the younger generation of pianists all of whom have technique galore and therefore no difficulties with the notes of these two great Prokofiev pieces. With the experienced Vladimir Ashkenazy moving from keyboard to conductor's podium on this occasion, Gavrylyuk has everything going for him. What he brings is musicianship and a hard to define panache. He has been compared to a young Horowitz and one can see why. Having heard Gavrylyuk live recently I can vouch for his star quality so maybe the recording environment was less favourable on this occasion. However, that panache was not obvious in the first movement of No.3 which seemed a bit careful compared to Martha Argerich on a 1967 DG recording and Béroff on EMI from 1974, the recordings I had to hand. I did miss the delicate tappings from the castanets that do much to spice up the movement. Exton have not given the percussion enough prominence and there is little depth to the sound-picture. There are opportunities for virtuoso interplay between soloist and orchestra that were not taken. The Sydney orchestra strings and wind sound a little uneasy with the complexities of the score and I began to worry that this might be another inadequate Prokofiev disc from Exton (see the Kijé Ashkenazy Exton review). Not so. Things looked up in the theme and variations second movement and by the finale all was well with detailed and lively playing and a very enjoyable rendering of those big tunes where Prokofiev seems to tip his hat to Rachmaninov. The Fifth concerto is not so often played and thus easier to judge without preconceptions. The first movement is typically spiky with lyrical interludes and showed Gavrylyuk on top form with technically immaculate playing. This is a concerto for orchestra as well as piano and the Toccata turned into a tour de force for all concerned. The recording of this concerto sounded better than that of the Third which was frankly inferior to the 1974 Béroff/Masur recording noted above. Number 5 had clean, clear and detailed sound though with just a little glare. Switching back and forth between Gavrylyuk, Argerich and Béroff showed the old DG recording to be just that - old - but the performance is superb and still deserving its place in the list of great Prokofiev discs. The EMI had an easy and convincing sound that says 'analogue' and I wonder what the Exton engineers did so differently for Ashkenazy and Gavrylyuk. I have no evidence but my ears tell me the Exton comes from a lot more microphones and is therefore significantly processed. The fact that this is an SACD is no reason to purchase the disc because that has not helped the stereo and there is no multi-channel. For a multi-channel recording of the Fifth concerto look to Schlimé on Pentatone. For me the benchmark for these concertos has always been Ashkenazy's Decca records with the London Symphony and André Previn but I do not have the CD reissue.

Dave Billinge

Good performances of both concertos with decent but unremarkable sound. The best reason for purchase is Gavrylyuk whose star is on the rise.