Following his well received Rachmaninov disc, Nikolai
Lugansky performs an excellent Chopin programme which confirms him as
one of the leading pianistic talents of the day. As a protégé
of the late lamented Tatiana Nikolaieva, he received plenty of support
in moving towards an international career, and he also gained the first
prize in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1994.
These performances bring out the intense emotionalism
of Chopin, which is not to suggest that they lack discipline. Quite
the opposite in fact, since it was this composer's achievement to use
development and in particular decoration to telling structural and emotional
effect. Lugansky communicates all this, whether it be in the smaller
scale world of the Nocturnes, or in the extended flow of the great set
of Préludes, Opus 28. If ever there was a case in music of the
whole sequence being more than the sum of the parts, this is surely
it. And at the highest level it is the most telling way of judging a
It is a challenge Lugansky meets head on. His view
of these 'collected miniatures as large scale work' is at once sure
and convincing, and founded upon a marvellous technique. It is of course
a tribute to Chopin that the most formidable technical challenge is
never less than musical, so that at this level of performance the emotional
interpretative insights begin to come flooding in.
There is no lack of intense rhetoric, of dazzling virtuosity,
but it is always in the service of structural command. Lugansky is helped
by a recording which successfully combines clarity, atmosphere and impact;
and as such the great C minor Nocturne, Opus 48 No. 1, makes a particularly
The two Ballades likewise have abundant subtleties,
and a real sweep of momentum, such is the urgent communication involved.
There are other ways of playing this music, no doubt, and they would
generally be more relaxed (Artur Rubinstein comes to mind), but Lugansky
has a great deal to offer.
Yet whatever the rights and wrongs of the other performances,
it will probably be for the Préludes that this disc will be known.
Certainly the Erato marketing team think so, with the remaining works
getting little attention on the cover. Above all it is the telling sweep
of momentum, the unity of the entire conception, which stays in the
mind. Some of the more relaxed pieces could certainly have gained from
a more pleasing sense of line, when taken individually perhaps. But
taken as a whole, the flow of the performance becomes increasingly compelling
and the listener becomes more and more convinced.