[First, let me suggest you read Hexameron's fine review of the disc. He provides a lot of information that I will omit from my review. He, like I, think this is a stunning finish to this wondrous series by a pianist who has been recording a lot for Naxos in recent years, going from triumph to triumph.]
Wagner called Beethoven's Seventh Symphony 'the apotheosis of the dance' and that is an apt description. Each movement MOVES, even the Allegretto which could also be thought of as a sort of funeral march (although I prefer to think of it as a celebration of plucky persistence). Liszt, as with the other symphonies, did an amazing job of transcribing this complex work for piano solo. This is not really one of those piano transcriptions that were constructed for the use of amateur pianists in their homes; this is a virtuoso work that requires enormous skill and musicality. There are defects, of course, in its realization largely because of the limitations of the piano. For instance, Liszt had to resort to octave tremolos far too often to imitate sustained tones in the orchestra. He had difficulty bringing out the delicious counter-melodies of the second movement, although Scherbakov does as good as job as anyone could do. I prefer his account to that of Katsaris on the Elektra label, the only other recording I know. (There is one by Leslie Howard, but I am not fond of his playing in general and have not sought out his recording of the Beethoven/Liszt symphonies on Hyperion.) As for the markedly rhythmic first, third and fourth movements, both Liszt and Scherbakov cannot be praised highly enough. This is really exciting stuff and I defy any listener to sit quietly in their chair without the urge to get up and move, perhaps even dance wildly, particularly so in the Scherzo. Scherbakov conveys the big rhetorical flourishes of the symphony with panache, but he also plays the tender quiet moments, as at the beginning of the Allegretto, equally well.
The Eighth Symphony is virtually the Seventh's polar opposite. It is genial, almost as pastoral as the Sixth, and altogether more modest in effect. I have particular fondness for it and am well pleased by Scherbakov's presentation. The transcription doesn't require quite the chops that the Seventh does and one is thus more able to react to Scherbakov's musicality rather than just gape at his virtuosity. I particularly like how he unreels the delightful second movement with its gentle staccato wind chords which Liszt transposed an octave down so the melodies could be heard above them. The finale is the most demanding pianistically with its whirling thirds required to be played leggierissimo. Scherbakov takes that and all the rest in stride.
This recording is not, of course, for the casual music lover. They would almost certainly prefer the orchestral originals. But for pianists, lovers of piano playing, Liszt completists and the insatiably curious this is a first choice for this repertoire, as are all the others in Scherbakov's Liszt/Beethoven series.