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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44 (Original Version) [42:46]
Concert Fantasia in G major, Op. 56 [29:35]
Eldar Nebolsin (piano)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Michael Stern
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 10-12 November 2014
Booklet notes in English
NAXOS 8.573462 [72:20]

Here we have the original version of the Tchaikovsky Second Piano Concerto with all the disfiguring cuts fully restored. The opening Allegro brillante is probably the work’s least convincing movement but the pianism of Eldar Nebolsin is full of fire and virtuosity and it’s very hard not be captivated and brought under his spell. This is romantic piano playing par excellence with a cracking central cadenza. Throughout this admittedly melodious and sumptuous opening movement the soloist really goes for it with a no holds barred approach and he is admirably supported by the orchestra and Michael Stern. The Andante non troppo includes superb contributions from the solo cellist and violinist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. They should really have been named in the CD booklet. This a lovely slow movement, full of rapture, poetry and a hint of melancholy and Nebolsin shows that there is more to his playing than flashy virtuosity. The partnership between soloist and orchestra is at its peak here. The concluding Allegro con fuoco sets off at one heck of a pace and the level of pianism is of the highest order. Yet again he is matched by the orchestral players who are clearly on their toes and loving every minute of it. What a fantastically thrilling way to bring the concerto to an end. Maybe as a work it falls short of the composer’s famous First Piano Concerto but this new recording will attract many admirers.

The Concert Fantasia in G has is another of the composer’s neglected pieces and I find that to be quite astonishing. It’s tuneful, energetic and full of Tchaikovsky’s characteristic plush orchestration. The piano writing is more exposed than in the Second Concerto and Nebolsin gives another fine performance. The filigree elegance of his finger work at around six minutes into the first movement Quasi rondo is something to behold. The solo string contribution in the second movement is excellent as is much of the orchestral playing. The concluding Molto vivace is lively and committed but it has to be admitted that this isn’t Tchaikovsky at his most inspired, despite some interesting moments of repose followed by passages of extreme virtuosity. It’s still good fun to wallow in the tunes though.

The slightly two dimensional recording is easy to reproduce, nicely balanced and satisfying to listen to. It suits the romantic music very well. Woodwind detail is a joy in both works and the strings are full toned. Nebolsin is in tremendous form and the orchestral playing in the concerto is exemplary. In the Concert Fantasia there are a few passing moments that suggest that the music wasn’t rehearsed as fully as the concerto but there are no serious clangers, just moments where the ensemble isn’t perfect. The concerto is up there as a primary choice for the work on CD and the Fantasia should be considered to be a generous and laudable 29 minute bonus. This is another winner from Naxos offering quality music making and great value for money.

John Whitmore

Previous review: Des Hutchinson



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