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Lugansky brings his own perfect pianistic storm to Miami audience

Nikolai Lugansky
South Florida Classical Review

By Lawrence Budmen

An intrepid group of pianophiles braved the tropical storm conditions of Hurricane Sandy Thursday night to hear pianist Nikolai Lugansky’s recital at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, presented by Friends of Chamber Music. Lugansky offered rarely heard Janacek, highly personalized Schubert and dramatically potent Liszt; yet, his version of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 proved the evening’s most memorable offering.

The winner of the 1994 Tchaikovsky Competition and a globetrotting orchestral soloist and recitalist, Lugansky brings rock-solid technique and bold interpretive instincts to the bravura repertoire that has become his specialty yet his approach to less flamboyant scores can be equally compelling and persuasive.  Lugansky’s professionalism and control were tested when the sanctuary’s power system failed twice during the concert’s second half, briefly leaving the hall in darkness. Continuing to play as if nothing had occurred, he did not miss a beat or note.

Quickly adapting to the hall’s dull acoustics, Lugansky projected the serenity of the first of  four vignettes that comprise Janacek’s In the Mists with exquisite, pearly tones. The music’s sudden pauses and loud interjections were all the more disturbing, the pianist capturing Janacek’s distinctly personal brew of folk roots, dissonance and harmonic ambiguity. Lugansky showed plenty of pianistic firepower in the final Presto, the rapid coda emerging with blistering urgency.

Schubert’s late Four Impromptus may have lacked the classicism of an Alfred Brendel but Lugansky’s more idiosyncratic interpretation highlighted the scores’ mood-shifting similarities to the Janacek as well Schubert’s more romantic voice. The F minor impromptu (No. 1) was spun as a long-limbed pianistic art song. In the Impromptu No. 2 in A-flat Major, Lugansky carried off the changes of meter seamlessly, his touch light and brightly textured. The famous B-flat Major Impromptu was wonderfully inventive, the variations filled with character and enlivened by the wide-ranging color palette and broad dynamic contrasts. Strongly rhythmic underpinning accentuated the dance-like vivacity of the concluding F minor piece.

Lugansky captured the emotional volatility of Liszt’s Aux Cypres de la Villa d’Este without bombast but that was just the warm up to the concert’s piece de resistance.  Offering his own conflation of the original 1913 version and 1931 revision of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2, Lugansky brought sweep and big barreled virtuosity to the opening Allegro molto, tempered by refined shaping of melodic lines. Rarely has this showpiece emerged with such a combination of passion and lyrical beauty. He captured the haunting, rhapsodic hues of the Lento; yet, in the thunderous climaxes, his Steinway grand produced sonorities of near orchestral heft. Adapting a rapid-fire pace for the finale, Lugansky articulated the fistfuls of notes cleanly and distinctly. His hands were a blur ranging across the extremes of the keyboard in the finger-breaking coda, taken at lightning speed. This was red-blooded Rachmaninoff, fiercely Russian and romantic.

Repeated standing ovations brought two encores. Liszt’s Valse oubliees danced with the lightness of a feather. The Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream spanned the instrument’s high and lowest ends, Lugansky’s touch incisive and energetic, the perfect icing on the musical cake.