Two years ago, there was a real buzz around Auckland Town Hall when Eldar Nebolsin and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra played Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto.

As if the performance itself didn't generate a surfeit of goosebumps and palpitations, it came with an extra bonus; many in the hall knew that, within days, orchestra, pianist and American conductor Michael Stern, would be recording this work for Naxos, together with the composer's lesser-known Concert Fantasia.

Now, those sessions of superb music-making can be enjoyed on CD, the sumptuous sound of which reminds one of just how well the concerto fitted within the orchestra's Opulence series back in 2014.

All the many virtues of that live concert have not dimmed. The Uzbek soloist, no mere flash-on-the-keys technician, provides solid architectural underlay for the first movement's four-and-a-half minute cadenza; in the following Andante, he joins violinist Vesa-Matti Leppanen and cellist Andrew Joyce for some exquisitely intimate chamber music.


If length were all, the 30 minutes of Tchaikovsky's Concert Fantasia would guarantee the score full concerto status.

It may lack the melodic hooks of the composer's concertos but there is ample compensation in the dynamic interplay between soloist and orchestra, even if it makes for symphonic adventuring rather than symphonic argument.

There are predictable highlights. Be prepared to gasp at Nebolsin's effortless eight-page storm of a solo at one point, offset, later on, by Joyce's eloquently melancholic cello.

In the final count, what cements this less familiar work its appeal is the palpable chemistry between orchestra, pianist and conductor, making the utmost of every fiery flourish and heartrending sob until Tchaikovsky brings it all to a close with a generous sprinkling of G major glitter.

What: Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No.2 & Concert Fantasia (Naxos)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: A superb symphonic adventure from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra