Nikolai Lugansky is an exemplar of the Russian Piano School; his impeccable pedigree includes study with the legendary Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky, both able to trace a lineage back through Ginzberg, Goldenweiser and Siloti to Liszt. Despite a formidable career in the concert hall, his discography has been an uneven affair veering between major and boutique labels – I suspect the less compelling releases lacked a firm hand on the tiller; it takes an experienced producer to challenge and prod an artist for that elusive take to keep for posterity.
This latest offering of his meat and potatoes repertoire suggests he has found the right crew and hopefully Harmonia Mundi will keep him at their table. He recorded the Opus 23 set some 18 years ago for Erato, but this new account is far more distinctive – note the searing cut of No 1’s melodic line and the particular baritonal colour he gives to No 4’s cantabile line, the long bardic melody wonderfully interweaving with its limpid accompaniment.
The sweep of No 2’s torrent is breathtaking yet with each droplet rendered in high-definition detail and No 8 is a tour de force. He’s a bit po-faced in No 5’s sinister march but the central episode is lovely and the reprise of the march tightens the screw.
The Opus 32 set has some splendid moments; the sweep and energy of No 3 evoking a Shrovetide Fair while the limpid figurations of No 5 are exquisite. He keeps the lid on No 13’s concluding pages not allowing it to spill over into Scriabinesque overstatement.
There are a few miscalculations; he obsesses a little too insistently on Op. 23 No 3’s triplet 32nd notes and the result is a touch mannered and I do wish he had moved along Op. 32 No 10’s dotted rhythm chords just a tad – they are a little too deliberate and the bleak landscape loses focus. You might baulk at his expansive reading of the C Sharp Minor warhorse but it worked for me – a slow build to a passionate climax – far less Hammer Horror than usual.
Overall this is a splendid set with some revelatory moments. Lugansky’s technique is transcendental with miraculous feats of pedalling; clarity is somehow maintained through the heaviest downpour of notes. There are times when one might wish he would let go a little but one person’s aloof coolness is another’s aristocratic poise. Harmonia Mundi provides a splendid recording that accommodates his huge dynamic range without congestion.