It’s always fascinating to hear Russian pianists play Debussy. Nikolai Lugansky opens with L’Isle Joyeuse, inspired by Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera, depicting an aristocratic group boarding a boat bound for the Temple of Venus. Lugansky makes it one of Debussy’s most extrovert compositions, as well as being his earliest example of an “orchestral” work conceived for piano.
He distinguishes the contrasting spirit of the two Arabesques and doesn’t relegate them to salon-inspired triviality. In what is essentially the major work, Bergamasques, the Minuet is played without sugary daintiness and Clair de Lune (Debussy’s quintessential piece?) has all the space, delicate Romantic feeling and rubato that, say, Simon Trpcˇeski’s version lacks. My favourite piece of all Debussy, La Plus Que Lente (The more than slow waltz) in Lugansky’s hands radiates the same erotic glamour as Satie’s song Je Te Veux. I have to confess I prefer the orchestral version, with the cimbalom part.
Unfortunately, despite this CD’s ungenerous duration, only one of the Estampes – Jardins sous la Pluie – is included. Lugansky’s rendition seems somewhere between Hough’s somewhat emphatic reading and, say, Bavouzet’s more subtle scampering. In the Second book of Images, Luganski captures the mixed imagery in Cloches à Travers les Feuilles and the sound of a gong in the dead temple in Et la Lune Descend sur le Temple qui Fut as if it were a phantom melody.
Composition: Suite Bergamasque
Performer: Nikolai Lugansky p
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM902309