Four out of five ain't bad,
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This review is from: Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 5 (Audio CD)
This is a review of both Gavrylyuk/Ashkenazy discs of the complete Prokofiev Piano Concertos, as, in my opinion, they should have been published as a set.
A great admirer of these concertos for many years, I admit that for some time now I have been rather paining for something fresh on the menu. Since the El Bacha set (recorded in 2004) and the Marshev set (recorded in 2005) I haven't really come upon any new issues seeming worth the bother. These new productions caught my attention, though. I can't claim I'd have known Alexander Gavrylyuk from Adam before stumbling onto these discs, but I understand he made quite a name for himself in the Ukraine back in the 1990's, possitively sweaping the other contestants off their feet in the 1999 3rd Vladimir Horowitz competition - which is no mean feat by any standard. The baton being wielded by Vladimir Ashkenazy, whose brilliant recordings of the concertos (with Previn, 1974/75) still top many international lists, and the discs being SACD's clinched the argument, though - and all in all I'm very happy to have made the purchase.
The concertos fall into three categories quality wise. The 1st, 4th and 5th are very well done indeed, falling only slightly short in imagination and expression of the hallowed versions of Gavrilov and Argerich (No.1), Serkin and Fleischer (No.4) and Richter (No.5), and in themselves they warrant the acquisition of the set. The 3rd, however, is in a class of its own, displaying at its best the music's considerable wit, an irresistible sparkling humour, as well as a velvety beauty in the tender moments. Everything is held together by a dazzling technique, and, as such, it is by several sizeable whiskers the pick of the litter and must be ranked at the very top along the recordings of Byron Janis and Yefim Bronfman. Only the emotionally difficult 2nd concerto disappoints, failing manifestly to grasp the combination of greef and anger at the center of this disturbing work. The Intermezzo in particular lacks the depth and the gravitas needed to properly display its menace and scathing irony. It's a pitty ... but there it is. For a G minor concerto that is both angry, occasionally tearful, and impressively played look to Krainjev/Kitaenko instead - or even better to Anna Vinnitskaya in her recent recording for Naïve. They'll get your pulse racing, I guarantee.
The sound quality is generally very good as usual for SACD's on the TRITON lable. As in most recordings made these days the bass is in places unpleasantly heavy and needs ajusting, but the sound picture is well balanced and clear. The Sydney orchestra is in fine form and the direction of Ashkenazy shows, as one might expect, considerable insight, passion, and understanding - barring the strangely shallow 2nd.
These are fine discs and good value for money even at full price - in particular if you're partial to the final three concertos, the great successes of the set.