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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]

Were it not for his iconic, top-of-the-pops first piano concerto, Tchaikovsky’s second would probably get a much greater airing. It’s also a barnstorming work, made all the more so by performances such as this one – a take-no-prisoners romp with Uzbek-born Eldar Nebolsin and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under American maestro Michael Stern. Not uncommonly for a major label, Naxos is in competition with itself here, having the same two works on highly regarded CDs by Bernd Glemser with the Polish National RSO under Antoni Wit, from 1995, and Konstantin Scherbakov with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dimitry Yablonsky, from 2005.

The concerto’s opening Allegro brillante gets all the octane it needs from the assembled company, setting inexorable forces in motion. If you think this may be too much of Tchaikovsky-on-steroids, you may prefer, say, Mikhail Pletnev with the Philharmonia under Vladimir Fedoseyev (on Virgin), which registers as more stately and reserved. But for me, damn the dignity – I just love the adrenaline. It’s not all headlong bravura from Nebolsin and his antipodean collaborators, though, as the poetry of Tchaikovsky’s quieter interludes brings rapture of a different, but equally committed, kind. Standing out also are the delicious woodwind, and the complete rapport between soloist, orchestra and conductor. If at times the NZSO’s entries sound a little rough-hewn, that only adds to the live-and-sweaty spontaneity of it all. Despite the relative calm of the Andante non troppo second movement, the tension is maintained, Nebolsin never less than quietly rhapsodic as he navigates the inward, latent passions of the composer’s psyche. Launching then into the concluding Allegro con fuoco, all and sundry set course for a joyous, tumultuous journey to the final peroration and close.

The episodic Concert Fantasia in G has much of the energy, bravura and propulsion of the concerto, if not the same level of invention and memorability. Paradoxically, it’s more piano-centric than the concerto, having been partly inspired by the playing of the pianist and composer Eugen d’Albert, whom Tchaikovsky had seen in concert. Again, committed performances all round, with commanding, nuanced and authoritative pianism from Nebolsin, and a wholehearted orchestral response, woodwind once more to the fore, if on this occasion some lack of body is evident in the lower strings.

The recorded sound fits these performances like a glove – immaculate balance, and while the acoustic is slightly claustrophobic, it nevertheless channels all its energy and immediacy to the listener, really making you feel a guest at this Tchaikovsky party. Liner notes from the ‘immortal’ Keith Anderson complete the deal. If there is a downside, it’s a pity that the excellent violin and cello soloists in the concerto are not acknowledged in the details.

Some of his lesser work this may be, but if you want a goodly dose of unapologetically Tchaikovskian bliss, this is the place to go.

Des Hutchinson



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