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  Naxos -
  Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 - Scherbakov
  Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30

Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Dmitry Yablonsky (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:
  Recorded in Studio No.5, Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House, 21st - 25th May 2002
Producer: Lubov Doronina
Engineer: Alexandr Karasev
Editing: Pavel Lavrenenkov

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Reviews: 6 show all

Review by drdanfee December 17, 2005 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
BRILLIANT READING = SLAVIC SOUL & VIVID SOUND. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Except for the particularly expert Naxos remastering of the composer's own recordings, Naxos has been repeatedly trying Ėbut just missing the center mark of the musical target - to get it right with the Rachmaninoff concertos. The Jeno Jando disc with the second concerto and the rhapsody was nicely played; but the orchestra wasn't quite as good as the pianist. Then Bernd Glemser had a go. Again, good performances, but rather glib with Glemser lacking something in the Slavic soul department. Also, the soundstage cast by the regular CD didnít appear to yield much depth of field on my home multi-channel system.

Now, we can listen to Konstantin Scherbakov, accompanied by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra (the modern incarnation of the old USSR symphony), conducted by Dimitri Yablonsky. Mr. Scherbakov arrives at this point, having established very strong pianistic credentials by way of his stellar performances of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and the Shostakovich Preludes, all set down for Naxos in regular 16-bit stereo CD sound.

As a winner of the first-ever Rachmaninoff competition, you might suspect that Mr. Scherbakov would know a thing or two about how to present this music. He does, indeed. Right off, he commands the balances needed to make Rachmaninoff more than background or elevator music. Pacing is key, and not easily done in Rachmaninoff. Not to fast, not too slow. Above all, not too rigid; able to rise and fall with the larger phrasings of the music without devolving into the kind of taffy-pull that leaves the music hanging in your ear like gooey-stringed sweets full of empty nourishment, limp and over-sweet and sticky. Beyond the phrase shape, as such, the best performers will also find the paragraphs, and the larger movementís form.

Technically, neither of these two concertos is particularly easy to play. Yet Mr. Scherbakov solves or surmounts every difficulty.

He masters the challenge. He has the piano figurations completely in hand, and in Slavic heart. Rachmaninoff is always requiring the pianist to play very busy patterns Ė so full of moving notes - while also making you work to distinguish the melody or rhythmic foreground from the rest of the pattern that serves as background, and sometimes even as motoric background. This is not physically impossible, but the athleticisms of Rachmaninovís physical patterns is not always the whole of the musical point being made. Lots of virtuosos are either working too hard to get it all done, or play it all like a super-fingered whiz kid who doesn't know foreground from background. The blessing is that Mr. Scherbakov knows how to solve this dilemma of musical background and foreground. He spins quicksilver lights from passages that can otherwise paradoxically sound either labored and too difficult, or superficial and entirely too easy in a piano-exercise sort of card-trickish sleight of hand.

The orchestra keeps up with the pianist very well. Again, there are lots of momentary passages, at both slow and fast tempos, where Rachmaninoff writes in orchestra soloist duets which partner whatever the piano is playing. These cannot be indulged, yet need to be present. It must be a challenging trick to get right within the larger flux of the passing sweep and flow of phrased moments. Often the soloist who plays something along with the piano is a member of the woodwinds. It is rather nice to hear how well the orchestra acquits itself in these passages, without calling undue attention to the interplay in a way that would interrupt the music.

The multi-channel DVD-audio/ or SACD 24 bit sound allows you to hear everything, without the glare or compression that subtly tints the reproduction in regular CD at 16 bits. If you donít have SACD yet, you can get the DVD-Audio version which also offers you a DVD Dolby mix that can play on any multi-channel DVD home theater system. The venue is recording studio five at the Moscow Radio, and it manages to sound like a real concert hall, instead of a studio box. The multi-channel mix serves the music extremely well, giving a vivid sense of the hall without sounding cavernous or too diffused. This means the multi-channel sound has solid definition, and also plenty of bloom.

If this release is any evidence, and I do believe it is, then Naxos has finally gotten it right in their search for team Rachmaninoff. The fact that all this success is available in high resolution sound is great, too. Highly, highly recommended, even if you have other performances you like. Five stars, each, for Scherbakov, for the orchestra, and the conductor. I believe that makes fifteen stars, total. Well, okay then. Five more stars for the SACD multi-channel, for a total of 20 stars. You can add more stars if you like.

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Review by sgb April 20, 2004 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Although the performance is decent enough, the orchestra and soloist aren't much more than a little on the high side of pedestrian. After hearing so many tales about the legendary status of this label, I thought I'd give this one a try, and I regret that I did.

As noted below, the sound is rather indistinct or ghostly. The piano can't make up its mind as to whether it should come from the left or right channel (in stereo only playback), the brass is a bit muffled and the strings and woodwinds severely muted. Not quite as bad as the Gergiev Berlioz I reviewed last month, but not the least recommendable either.

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Review by Dinko May 21, 2004 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The second piano concerto is decent enough. Not a first recommendation, but done fairly well, though again from Yablonsky and this orchestra, one would wish that they had a few more strings for the recording sessions. It sounds to me like orchestra, soloist and conductor are in good sync with each other, although the performance is rather mechanical.

I find the third concerto to be less successful than the second. Simply comparing this performance to a small handful of others, not even top recommendations, reveals how uncompetitive this one is. Whether it's the sound produced by the soloist (a little mechanical again), or the orchestral accompaniment (which is no match for The Philadelphia Orchestra, although that might be a very unfair comparison).

When it comes to the sound mix, I find the piano to be consistently too forward. In the third concerto there are moments where I wondered why they even had an orchestra at all. Orchestral transparency is excessively low. I would blame microphone placement as other recordings from this location (with the same producer-engineer team), including the recent Shostakovich 7th, can sound fantastically detailed, with a full orchestral sound. There is also an excessive amount reverberation as well as a boomy bassy sound that makes this SA-CD sound like a dts-CD. Surround channels provide good ambient reflection most of the time, or at least enough to make me believe I'm in the concert hall, even though the piano is the only thing on stage, the orchestra being in a pit, or backstage somewhere.
There are moments when things improve. The final three or four minutes of the second concerto's third movement for example finally let the orchestra have a bigger share of the sonic picture, but then we move onto the third concerto, and it's back to muddy reverb with prominent soloist and recessed orchestra.

This would appear to be one of Naxos' first attempts at multichannel using this combination of orchestra, production team, and location. It was recorded nearly a year before the Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 - Yablonsky album, and the Shostakovich is sonically much, much more successful.

I did learn one lesson though: I should have listened to the cashier in the record shop. She warned me that this was not one of the best recordings out there. Next time, I'll listen to her.

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Works: 2  

Sergei Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Sergei Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30