A Volcano Rages in Lugansky

Recital at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 29 May 2005
Review by Wenneke Savenije; first published in NRC
Translated from the original Dutch by E. de Boer

Due to major illness, 81-year-old Aldo Ciccolini failed to appear in the Master Pianists Series at the Concertgebouw. His replacement was Nikolai Lugansky (b.1972), who made his debut in this series in 1994. This was a stroke of good luck, for Lugansky is a pianistic phenomenon of exceptional class. At first glance, his honest piano playing is almost ascetic, but inside him a volcano rages.

This lava flow of pure musical passion and inspiration, driven by a supremely balanced interaction of technical, intellectual and spiritual gifts, culminates in Lugansky’s smooth and absolutely authentic interpretations.

‘Please, read Shakespeare’s Sturm’, was Beethoven’s answer when asked about the literary programme underlying his Sonata in D, op.31 no.2, also called Der Sturm (The Tempest). In this miraculous sonata, Beethoven, following Shakespeare’s footsteps, aimed to forge a connection between the earthly forces of nature and ethereal beings from higher spheres. Modestly, but with an impressive clenched power, Lugansky interpreted the sea storms evoked by evil forces. Lucidly and poetically, he allowed the meeker spirits from the metaphysical world to have a surreal dialogue with the ongoing tumultuous roar on earth. Lugansky gave the impression that he had actual contact with both worlds – his Sturm interpretation was most sincere and intense.

In Scriabin’s 8 Etudes op. 8, Lugansky emphasized the hallucinatory character of each ‘musical expression of an atmosphere’ in a subtle manner. Yet the awesome power of this still so young Russian pianist was fully expressed in his masterly performances of Rachmaninov’s Morceaux de fantaisie op. 3 and Etudes-Tableaux op. 33.

From a very early age, Lugansky presented himself at the grand piano with a melancholic, dark-tinged touch, which could be considered a tribute to Rachmaninov. In several interviews Lugansky refers to this 20th century master pianist, composer and conductor as his greatest idol. This can be heard in the stunning empathy, intelligence and passion with which he brings Rachmaninov’s complex voices to life.

Lugansky’s Rachmaninov radiates with passion and desire, cries out with despair and nostalgia, dreams of courtly love and poetry, but at the same time sounds striking, transparent and completely in equilibrium with himself.

This recital will be broadcast on Radio 4 (Netherlands), 12 June 2005

The Nikolai Lugansky Website