Largely overshadowed by the immense popularity of the First Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto is no less deserving of attention and enjoyment. Although a completely different beast than the First Concerto, Op. 44 is still filled with the trademark compositional characteristics of most of Tchaikovsky's works, including long, beautiful melodies, and thunderous bravura opportunities for pianist and orchestra alike. The very long first movement is, as it was criticized for at its inception, highly episodic, with the piano and orchestra frequently playing opposite each other rather than in collaboration. The second movement features uncharacteristically long, virtuosic solo sections for both violin and cello, at times making the movement seem like a piano trio. The sprightly, energetic third movement offers a more "typical" approach to concerto writing, with the piano and orchestra highlighted in more of a joint venture.
Pianist Konstantin Scherbakov, with Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, offer utterly magnificent performances of the Second Concerto along with the equally lesser-known Concert Fantasy. Scherbakov's playing switches easily between muscular and athletic to sensitive and refined -- dichotomous traits that are absolutely essential for the successful execution of this very demanding concerto. Anyone unfamiliar with these works should let this album be an introduction to them.