After the applause -
Lugansky's Brahms

From, May 2000
Written by Andrei Zolotov
Computer translation from the original Russian
Edited by I. Bogod and Valour

On the 8th of May in Moscow Nikolai Lugansky - the 27-year-old pianist who connects the past and the future of Russian performing arts - played Brahms.

Nikolai Lugansky played, in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the First Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms, in D minor,  with the State Orchestra (formerly led by Svetlanov) under the direction of the supremely talented young conductor Alexander Vedernikov.

His widespread fame began in 1994 at Tchaikovsky Competition where he won strongly, powerfully and... scandalously. Scandalously, because the jury did not dare to hand over the first prize to this rare artist. It was not received by anybody. And Lugansky was awarded second.

During these six years Lugansky has grown into such an artist that today, it is ridiculous to speak of his merits in degrees. Today he  is a great Russian artist. The first among equals. He could be, simply the first. Why? Is that to say, that others are no good ? Is that to say there are no other artists? No, no, no. That is not my meaning. I want to draw your attention to Lugansky as the focus of the best ideas and the best displays of the Russian spirit and Russian performing arts, and of art as a whole. This striking truthfulness, this striking detachment; this earnestness in work... it is high erudition, this yearning to understand new depths, rather than to gain the spoils of success. Also, this ability  to spontaneously open-up on the stage, rather than in conversation with you. This display of virtuosity is authentic, born of the music itself, and absolutely not external.

Speaking with Lugansky, having met him somewhere in a corridor of a conservatory or in the street, one could never have guessed that he is an artist. One can recognize in him everyman: the young engineer, the man  of letters, the Russian intellectual of any field. But the artist Lugansky expresses himself and appears to you only in concert. With him, no concert is quite like another. I can distinguish between concerts that are truly inspired and concerts where any inherent difficulties are resolved and all the toil is drowned in the depths of musical process. Not supressing listeners with gravity, but creating such depths that one ceases to feel even one's own pulse.

Lugansky has played much recently, both in Russia and abroad. Before the Brahms concerto he played, completely surprisingly, the Prokofiev Second Concerto, and before that, a solo concert with an unusual program - the First Sonata of Schumann and 24 Preludes of Chopin. But whatever Lugansky plays, I know that I shall remain in a ringing and ennobling atmosphere born of Russian musicality itself.

Lugansky is not from a musical family. He is from a family of scientists  (his father worked closely with Peter Leonidovich Kapitza), but he is  born of the Russian cultural environment. He was fated to become a musician. His musical abilities appeared early, and he fell into good hands, becoming the pupil of Tatiana Petrovna Nikolaeva (at the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Ernest Neizvestny Prize was given to the young artist as an honour to both his teacher and him.) Now in the Moscow Conservatory he continues to study under the guidance of professor Sergey Dorensky, and already has his own pupils.

I was fortunate enough to listen to, observe, reflect upon and even to talk to the greatest performer of the twentienth century, Sviatoslav Richter. And it seems to me that Lugansky is a person who has the potential to go the way of Richter. I bear in mind his capacity for a holistic perception of art, the attitude towards it as the undeniable manifestation of life. I speak of "the Richterian way " with reference to Lugansky because spontaneity lives within him; he has phenomenal natural endowments, an enormous capacity to work, a desire to study music, to be immersed in it, to know it and to convey it to other people not for commercial reasons but from a genuine wish to serve.

Playing Brahms - this is really a symphonic-concerto for piano with orchestra  and at times, especially in the first movement, it is a symphonic-concerto for orchestra with piano - Lugansky has demonstrated the rare natural ability to rise to a higher level, and there, to spontaneously communicate with the music. The orchestra which was able to play with Lugansky this evening, a famous orchestra, is now in a state of turmoil and not in top form. The inherent problems particular to this orchestra - namely a certain heaviness and power in the flow of sound - have now become a bit exaggerated. The soloist, with help from the conductor Alexander Vedernikov, worked superbly with the orchestra, despite exceedingly difficult conditions. Lugansky overcame the difficulties of the first movement - penetrating the depths of Brahms' music and fighting the Russian State orchestra at the same time - with courage of a true virtuoso. His strength and freedom increased as the movements progressed and we, the listeners, could feel even the finest nuances of Brahmsian inspiration and romanticism.

It is probably safe to say that Lugansky's first and greatest hero of all is Rachmaninov.  But not because he loves Rachmaninov more than Brahms (not that I am aware of). The reason is that Rachmaninov's nature is similar to that of this Russian - a very pure, deep person. The element of the ample utterance is natural to him. The emotional build of Lugansky's soul today is open to the Great Unknown. The burdens of life are still ahead, waiting for him. And when the Great Unknown finds its way into the infinite depths of his being, much more will yet be revealed. Of this you feel certain.

Nikolai Lugansky had a tremendous success at the overflowing Great Hall of the conservatory. Meeting with this artist was a great pleasure. My heart quickens with gladness. Whatever else we may be lacking these days, we at least have culture and great art. That means there is still hope.

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