Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 3.
Prelude in c?,
Scherzo No. 4 in E. Nocturne in F,
Waltz No. 7 in c?
Nikolai Lugansky (pn)
ONYX 4049 (67:07)
Nikolai Lugansky’s teacher, Tatiana Nikolayeva, called him “the next one.” She meant the next in the line of
great Russian pianists that includes Richter and Gilels. I’m not sure Lugansky has reached that level of eminence yet. In his own generation, he has been overshadowed by Evgeny Kissin, born one year earlier. Lugansky has a big sound, yet in the past I sometimes have felt that he only was happy when producing that sound. His Rachmaninoff concerto recordings, with Sakari Oramo, present much flexing of pianistic muscles, but in the more tender moments I find Lugansky occasionally adrift. I am happy to report that his new Chopin recital reveals a pianist generally comfortable with all the emotions evoked by the composer, not just the more sensational ones.
The album begins with a commanding performance of the Third Sonata. I recently reviewed excellent recordings of this work by Stephen Hough and, from a live concert, Martha Argerich. Lugansky’s rendition is in their league. The first movement opens with a true
, sounding very majestic. The big tune of the second section feels luxurious, with richly defined harmonies. Lugansky’s playing here has both clarity and warmth. The B section of the scherzo is strikingly ambiguous, in contrast to the clear-cut gestures of the A section. In the Largo, the first subject is languorous, while the second seems plaintive. The textures throughout this movement are unusually lush. The finale is never rushed, with brilliant runs. As a whole, Lugansky really has this sonata under his skin.
The remainder of the program generally pleases. The A section of the
manages to be fast and delicate at the same time. The tune in the B section (“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”) is sensitively phrased. The op. 45 Prelude here sounds like a highly advanced piece, prefiguring Scriabin. The Fourth Scherzo, the only one of the four in a major key, appropriately starts lithe and perky. The second subject, in the minor, has a contrasting feeling of longing, which Charles Rosen calls the central romantic emotion. The op. 15/1 Nocturne begins with a sense of regret, while Lugansky’s playing in the stormy B section is beautifully modulated. I recently reviewed a recording of the
by Etsuko Hirosé that is wonderfully emotionally equivocal. Lugansky takes a different tack. His performance is a virtuoso showpiece, mostly big and brawny. It still sounds like Chopin, but I believe there is more to the work than Lugansky finds in it. Some of his fast playing here is uncomfortably metronomic. With the Waltz No. 7 that ends the program, Lugansky is back on form—offering playing that is elegant yet pensive. He brings to mind Schumann’s comment about another Chopin waltz, that is should be danced by countesses.
The sound engineering, from a locale in Moscow, is excellent. I think this is a fine album and sometimes, as in the cases of the prelude and the scherzo, a spectacular one. It should find a ready audience among fans of the pianist and anyone interested in hearing an important talent address this repertoire. This is the first release from Lugansky’s new contract with Onyx. Let’s hope there are many more to come.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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