. . . [Behzod Abduraimov] tackles Tchaikovsky's familiar notes with exemplary aplomb . . . his playing conveys depth and grandeur. He's the master of all her surveys . . . [Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3] was Abduraimov's competition calling card and he plays it still with supersonic drive, daunting clarity and lots of hard glitter . . . Separating the two concertos by a soothing solo snippet from "Swan Lake" was a wise move; without that, I might have needed to cool my head under a tap.
The orchestral parts in both concerti are often tours de force in their own right, and the RAI musicians back down from none of the challenges. Under the direction of Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha, the Orchestral personnel exhibit exceptional versatility, adapting their playing to Prokofiev's and Tchaikovsky's individual voices. All sections of the orchestra rise to every peak in the music, and both musicians and conductor supply the structure needed for Mr. Abduraimov to focus on making magic . . . [a] powerful tone and near-perfect negotiation of difficult intervals . . . [are] imposing in Mr. Abduraimov's playing of Prokofiev's Third Concerto. In the opening movement, his sensitivity enables atypical discernment of the fragmentary repetitions of the lyrical opening theme in the red-blooded piano part, and his calm command of the demanding arpeggios, glissandi, and triadic writing in the coda highlights the unconventional logic of Prokofiev's harmonic progressions . . . [2nd movement]: The cleverness of the interactions between the piano and orchestra is accentuated by the suppleness of Mr. Abduraimov's phrasing and his close collaboration with Maestro Valcuha. The pianist's gossamer touch in the obbligato-like response to the restatement of the principal theme adds an intriguing note of mystery to the movement's final bars. The aggressive, almost pugilistic final movement challenges the world's best pianists, and it is to Mr. Abduraimov's credit that he not only survives unscathed but also plays with unflustered concentration that optimizes the impact of Prokofiev's inventive bitonality . . . Mr. Abduraimov's playing discloses a first-rate comprehension of Prokofiev's unique style . . . In the monumental opening movement of Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, Mr. Abduraimov and Maestro Valcuha work closely to build a majestic foundation upon which the primary theme is unfurled with delicacy . . . The wit of Tchaikovsky's development of the "Andantino semplice" subject of the second movement is exposed with extraordinary effect by Mr. Abduraimov's unsentimental phrasing, and Maestro Valcuha's management of the transition to the prestissimo tempo of the central section of the movement maximizes the significance of the contrast. In the "Allegro con fuoco" final movement, both Mr. Abduraimov and Maestro Valcuha treat the "rise" from the initial Bb minor to the Bb major in which the Concerto ultimately ends with the emotional and musical distinction that the similar conversion in the final scene of "Swan Lake" demands. Throughout the Concerto, Mr. Abduraimov's technical abilities are awe-inspiring, but he also has the sort of open-hearted communicativeness that finds an ideal outlet in Tchaikovsky's special Romanticism. His performance of the First Concerto is unique [for the unassuming joy of his playing] . . . this recording of Prokofiev's Third and Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerti furnishes ample evidence of Behzod Abduraimov's vivacity and technical hegemony, particularly in Russian repertory. In short, these are outstanding performances -- the kind of performances in which a young pianist proclaims, "I am here to stay".
. . . [Prokofiev 3]: exciting . . . He possesses a maturity way beyond his [age] . . . , able to convey the brilliance and propulsiveness of Prokofiev's writing together with all those little quirks of harmony and varieties of touch that make the score of the Third Concerto such a luminous kaleidoscope. The Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI under Juraj Valcuha is an equally vital component here, as it is in the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Grandeur and swagger coalesce at the start, with a ripe substance to that glorious big tune and, as the concerto proceeds, a refined sense of shape, emotional sensibility, energy and astutely harnessed virtuosity . . . indispensable.
. . . Abduraimov shows abundant energy and brilliance, qualities that aren't worn down by the physical demands of these works. If anything, he appears to relish the opportunity to play them with different conductors and orchestras, each time giving his all in collaborative efforts that have won critical praise everywhere he has performed. These recordings with Juraj Valcuha and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra are presumably typical of the successful interactions Abduraimov has had, and this exciting album preserves what is surely a remarkable period in this active virtuoso's career. For a brief interlude between the concertos, Abduraimov plays Earl Wild's flashy transcription of the "Dance of the Four Swans" from "Swan Lake", to give a solo demonstration of his own prestidigitation. But there is more than enough dazzling fingerwork in the concertos to convince anyone that Abduraimov has the skills to give them bravura performances, anytime and anywhere.
. . . there is no lack of spirit in this acutely observed interpretation; Prokofiev's lemony, brittle writing is given the milk-and-honey treatment with a velvet-cushioned tone. Listen, for instance, to the spiky brass declamations of the theme in Var 11 of the second movement . . . there is much to admire in this well-integrated performance and his intimate rapport with the orchestra. Listen out for the delightful murmurings of the muted violas and cellos after the fermata at 8'56" and the second subject of the slow movement, flagging up without undue emphasis the subject of the central prestissimo section . . . there is much to savour in this most thoughtful and musical account. The two concertos are separated by a charming, feather-light account of the "Pas de quatre" from "Swan Lake" in Earl Wild's transcription.