[Caveat: I was only vaguely familiar with the Second Concerto and not at all with the Concert Fantasy before obtaining this CD. And I have not heard the recordings of these works by Mikhail Pletnev, Peter Donohoe and Bernd Glemser.]
Like many, I had been under the impression that Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto could not stand comparison with his extremely popular First. But I was wrong. It is a mystery to me, after having now listened to this recording several times, why it is not played more often . Some have criticized its lack of memorable melodies, but that strikes me as hogwash. There are some gorgeous melodies here -- consider the main melody of the second movement, or the catchy first theme of the finale. As far as that goes, in fact, the opening melody of the first movement is one of Tchaikovsky's most memorable. Some have criticized the concerto's construction. I actually find it to be the equal of (no, superior to) that of the First.
I suspect part of the reason for the concerto's lack of popularity is that it was published in an edition that Tchaikovsky pupil Alexander Siloti prepared after the composer's death. In that edition he did grievous harm to the construction of both the first and second movements. Most damaging, he removed the concertante portions of the second movement featuring solo violin and cello, one of the concerto's most original and striking features. That edition was the one usually used until a new edition made from Tchaikovsky's manuscript was made available some fifty years later. On this recording we get Tchaikovsky's original.
The 'Concert Fantasy' is even less often heard. It is a truncated concerto of two movements, the second of which was made from remnants of a discarded movement for Tchaikovsky's Third Orchestral Suite. It was very popular after its premiere but within perhaps twenty years practically disappeared from concert programs . It is virtuosic and beautifully orchestrated but, according to Tchaikovsky biographer David Brown, its 'crippling weakness is that it contains not one really strong idea, yet its very original structure suffices to show that Tchaikovsky was concerned to fashion something more than a mere showpiece.' The second movement, 'Contrastes', is structurally interesting but otherwise only fitfully memorable.
The performances here are quite good. Tempi in the Second Concerto tend to be somewhat faster than I might have expected but exciting for all that. Konstantin Scherbakov, who has become one of Naxos's most frequently used piano soloists, is a very fine performer -- his recordings of the First and Third Concertos of Tchaikovsky are outstanding -- and he does not let us down here. The soulful violin and cello soloists in the concerto's second movement are Andrey Kudryavtsev and Dmitry Yablonsky. The latter is the conductor as well; he, too, makes frequent appearances on Naxos recordings and is particularly fine, with his Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, in Russian literature.