This disc has the distinct, and very real, disadvantage of coming so soon after the Chandos SACD with the magnificent Xiayin Wang playing the Tchaikovsky 2nd. That being said, Eldar Nebolsin is a very good, and musical, pianist. He and Michael Stern do their best to minimize the bombast of that long first movement. But unlike Wang and Oundjian on Chandos, they sacrifice just a little too much of the power and deeper musical insight to be found. Further, Nebolsin tends to overpedal, especially compared to Wang's spectacularly clean and detailed performance. And Naxos's sound is muddy and slightly diffuse compared to that heard on the superlative Chandos. Still, this is quite accomplished music-making.
The slow movement is very nicely done (played complete), and the finale, with a perfectly judged tempo, comes off best, bringing the concerto to a rousing and satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, the coupling takes an immediate downward spiral for the worst. The orchestra sound as if they are sightreading the score, and Stern "helps out" by slowing down the tempo when a slightly difficult passage arrives. And even then, the orchestra sounds unsteady. The pianist obviously knows all the notes, but there is not a solid concept of an interpretation or overall conception or coordinated with the conductor. It's very much every man for himself. It sounds disjointed, clumsy and unmusical.
This disc is interesting to hear Michael Stern conducting an orchestra other than his home-based Kansas City Philharmonic, and in an accompanying role at that. He proves to be a sensitive accompanist, and Nebolsin a musical pianist. But in the end, these are enormously difficult pieces to bring off. The concerto is pleasing enough, despite Naxos's less than stellar recording. And the coupling would be better left off completely.