Konstantin Scherbakov is a Russian pianist who has of late made many recordings, primarily of Russian music, for Naxos and Marco Polo. His recording of the Shostakovich 'Preludes and Fugues' is among the very best as is his recording of Shostakovich's first piano sonata. He has also recorded Rachmaninov brilliantly; he had come to international attention in 1990 when he played Rachmaninov's complete works for solo piano in Italy and garnered an enthusiastic endorsement from none other than Sviatoslav Richter. In the several years that he has been recording for Naxos/Marco Polo I have been increasingly impressed with his breadth and depth of musicianship.
Here, of course, we have performances of one of the most-recorded piano concertos ever written, Tchaikovsky's First. Practically every major pianist of the twentieth century (and many not-so-major ones) have recorded this concerto, and there are many fine performances. This one is able to hold its own amongst the very best. Not only does Scherbakov give a brilliant performance, he is given a sensitive and flexible accompaniment by Dmitri Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic. Particular commendation go to the principal oboe and flute, and even more to the principal cello and violin, all of whom have important solos in both concertos recorded here. Yablonsky manages transitional passages with skill and suavity; listen, for instance, to the second movement of the First Concerto: the transition to the quick middle section begins as naturally as to be almost unnoticed, not something that every conductor can pull off, and the same is true for the gearing back down for the return of the opening andante. Scherbakov has lightning-fast leggiero passages but also has thunderous octaves that never become clangorous. And in the midst of these technical displays he also makes music. As I've stated in earlier reviews, Scherbakov's sound does not seem to vary from piano to piano, a sign of a great player.
The Third Concerto has a marvelous first movement, played with great brilliance here, but is let down by the second and third movements, each completed after Tchaikovsky's death by his friend, Sergey Taneyev. It is no wonder that this concerto is rarely played. Still, it is given a good performance here by soloist and orchestra and certainly anyone who loves Tchaikovsky's music - and only snobs don't, I suspect - it should be in every collection.
The CD is a hybrid SACD (mastered in DSD) and can be played on either regular CD player or 5.1 multichannel surround sound equipment. The sound is rich and full in both formats. This recording has a plain audio CD (non-SACD) release as well.