This set, recorded in 1991-2, is conducted by Kitaenko (also spelt Kitajenko)who was one of the reasons I had for buying this set. This may seem strange, but the Kitajenko interpretations of the Prokofiev symphonies are simply the most musical that I have heard and I felt that these concertos required a musical conductor if they are to avoid the mechanical playing often heard.
Imagine my delight therefore, when I found that Kitajenko was totally matched by a pianist that brought the same level of musicianship to these scores. Krainev clearly has all the technical brilliance that they require but he clearly puts the expression of the music ahead of the requirement for digital brilliance and power.
The recording balance is a help by not spotlighting the piano quite as much as usual and therefore allowing far more of the orchestral dialogue to come through naturally rather than through spotlight miking. At first I wondered, like some others seem to have done, if the recording lacked brilliance but it soon became apparent that the balance was very good and it was for me to adjust my ears. This was soon achieved without difficulty.
The fifth concerto is less aggressively spiky in this performance and the fourth is more lyrically communicative than is often the case. The third, of which I have numerous recordings, is by far the most naturally expressive and simply musical in its delivery. The second, which can so easily become a digital battleground is, like the third, a very musical performance. The extended cadenza in the first movement is the slowest in my collection, but its emphasis on melodic line and not the percussive possibilities, is a good example of how music is finally achieved from a forest of notes. The fast scherzo that follows is also played at a speed that allows for phrasing and shaping rather than just a scramble for the finishing line. The first concerto is similarly played for its musical values and is far more of a team effort with the orchestra than is often heard.
Other performances that I have used for comparison in my collection include, Ashkenazy who I find a bit below par in this set which is rather to heavyweight to sparkle as much as it should, Paik who certainly does deliver that sparkle, Argerich on number 3, Bronfmann on 2 and 4, Kissin on 1 and 3 and Gutierrez on 2 and 3. These are all impressive pianists and performances but it is Krainev and Kitaenko who consistently produce the most musically satisfying performances.
In conclusion I would suggest that this set by Krainev and Kitaenko deserves to be short-listed in any group of potential purchase considerations. The recording quality has proved to be very good too when played back on the four systems available to me. These are sufficiently high end to be intolerant of poor recordings and these have passed the test.
The other day I listened to the Second Concerto in the new recording from Yundi Li and Ozawa on DG (coupled with the Ravel) and I compared it to the Krainev recording on this complete set. According to Bryce Morrison in Gramophone, Li's performance far surpasses any other in the catalogue, but in my view Krainev wins hands down. To start with he is far better recorded. His playing has poetry, and in the most hair-raising parts of the first-movement cadenza he sounds like a superbly accomplished pianist, whereas Li sounds like a machine. Okay, so Li knocks 20 seconds off Krainev in the very short Scherzo, but again it is Krainev who sounds more musical. Doubtless the close-up DG recording does Li no favours, but it is also an interpretation lacking in grace and contrast. In the third movement (Intermezzo) Li is a whole minute faster than Krainev (5'40" v 6'40"), but he just sounds impatient. The movement should dance as well as grimace, not just stamp, stamp, stamp. Again in the fourth movement, Krainev and his conductor Kitaenko seem to have proposed to their production team that they make music together, and the engineers have done their best to go along with that. The problem with the Li performance is that the engineers have got in too close in a bid to avoid any audience noise in what is a live recording. Ironically they have finished up with something that sounds very studio-bound simply because it is so airless. As to the rest of Krainev's set, the first concerto is also magnificent, and the third is very good. He is not quite the equal of Argerich in No 3 (her EMI recording with Charles Dutoit, not the DG version), but she has played that concerto all her life and has said that it just seems to sit easily under her fingers. It is difficult to imagine anyone touching her in this piece. And likewise Richter's classic account of No 5 (which IS on DG) is in a class of its own. Recommendation: Get the Krainev for the complete set and add the Argerich and Richter for super alternative versions of Nos 3 and 5.