Nikolai Lugansky in a diverse Chopin program of suave and supple colors.

Nikolai Lugansky
Audiophile Audition

By Gary Lemco

Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58; Fantasia in F minor, Op. 49; Impromptu No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 66 'Fantaisie-Impromptu'; Prelude Op. 45 in C sharp minor (No. 25); Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54; Nocturne No. 4 in F major, Op. 15 No. 1; Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2
Onyx 4049, 67:07 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****

Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky (b. 1972) demonstrates his affinity for the music of Frederic Chopin in this recital from the Slobodkin Center, Moscow, 24-26 November 2009. The largest work, the 1844 Sonata in B Minor, receives a poetic rendition that balances the B Minor turbulence of the opening Allegro maestoso against the nocturne in D Major that comprises its central section. The brilliant flashes of mercurial color that pass through the Scherzo suggest an uneasy turmoil solaced by images of nostalgic reminiscence. The grand Largo permits Lugansky to indulge his pearly play in cascades of arpeggios and sustained harmonies. The constant struggle between B Minor and B Major reaches its culmination in the Rondo finale, in which liquid runs intrude on the ritornello of galloping passions. Each half measure has punctuations on the first and third beats that jar the senses even in the midst of what seems a steady underlying pulse, however inflamed.

The eternal Fantasie-Impromptu (1834), in brilliant cross-rhythms and one swirling melody that limpidly sings with exalted nostalgia, rushes across the palette of Lugansky’s palette in dazzling array, a gem polished with that same poetic flame that illumined my first exposure to its charms, with Claudio Arrau. The 1841 Prelude in C-sharp Minor plays as a chromatic nocturne, a floating piece that expands over a liquid ostinato Chopin would use as a rhetorical strategy in several late pieces. Lugansky plays it fluently, but few can equal Michelangeli in this haunted work. The E Major Scherzo (1842) Lugansky plays for its whimsical, relatively carefree ethos, elegant and brilliant. A series of powerful chords takes us to the trio section, another sensuous nocturne that speaks to Chopin’s spiritual serenity at the time of its composition. The “watery” and dramatic coda exploits Chopin’s rich control of a chromatic scale stretched over five octaves.

Lugansky gives us one Nocturne, that in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1 (c. 1830), with its dreamily tender melody that suddenly erupts into F Minor. The rumbling, chromatic bass line supplied Rachmaninov with a host of ideas. The F Minor tonality ushers in the last major work on the program, the Fantasie, Op. 49 (1841), a martial piece in extended ternary and sonata-form that assumes a series of moods and kaleidoscopic shapes, an amalgam of improvisatory techniques concentrated into its thirteen-minute duration. The chains of rolling arpeggios, along with the descending four-note theme transform into a middle-section chorale of intimate beauty. The da capo under Lugansky proves shapely and supple, the broken and non-legato chords piercing and appropriately fateful. Finally the ubiquitous Waltz No. 7 (1847) whose figures accelerate in the outer sections and syncopations drive the trio. Lugansky adds just that touch of luftpausen to heighten the poetic effect, the salon dance become a ravishing poem.