Russian Powerhouse Pianist Shows Cerritos Audience How It's Done

From Los Cerritos Community News, September 28th, 2000
Review by Joe Magil

Nikolai Lugansky, a Josť Iturbi Gold Medal Performer, delivered an object lesson on how to play the piano Monday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. Lugansky, winner of the 1994 International Tchaikovsky Competition, the most coveted award in the world of classical music, gave a recital of mostly Russian music.

Tall, fair and lean, with long, thin fingers, the unassuming Russian sat at the Center's Steinway and, without breaking a sweat, coaxed (or bullied!) as much sound out of the instrument as it could possibly produce.  He did this over and over again throughout the evening, and by the end we realized that we had witnessed the workout of a real heavyweight talent.

The evening started rather quietly, with a fine Mozart Piano Sonata, K. 576. The music was the essence of nobility in Lugansky's capable hands, and it was especially enjoyable to listen to the finely woven tracery that Mozart always had accompany his simple, luminous melodies.

Next was Rachmaninoff's Moments Musicaux a collection of six character pieces written by that master of late romanticism.   Suddenly, there was an enormous contrast from what had come before, as though Lugansky and his instrument had been transformed.   The piano tone acquired a new glow and depth as he skillfully applied the pedal, and when he wanted it, the Steinway fairly roared.   Rachmaninoff's ardent melody drew deeper emotions from Lugansky. There was a wealth of moods -- longing, nostalgia, playful fantasy, passion, melancholy, and a desolate ending.  And that was just the first piece!   The third piece, a slow one, had Lugansky mining the deepest, darkest despair from his instrument, and the audience couldn't restrain its applause at the end.  The wildly swirling figures of the fourth piece let Lugansky give a display of real virtuoso exhibitionism.

After intermission, Lugansky chose to play three of Nikolai Medtner's Forgotten Melodies.  A lesser-known Russian composer of the first half of the twentieth century, Medtner combines the romanticism of Rachmaninoff with the classicism of Brahms. The Melodies were all very lovely - the first nostalgic; the second impish and then dire; the third tender, simple and delicate, with a gorgeous, transcendent ending.

If all this beautiful music were not enough, Lugansky concluded his program with a real tour de force, Mikhail Pletnev's arrangement of selections from Tchaikovsky's score for the ballet Sleeping Beauty.

Orchestral sounds must be drawn from the piano in order to do justice to this music, and Lugansky rose to the challenge.  A real virtuoso showpiece, the music makes one tremendous demand on the pianist's technique after another, not to mention the musical demands of characterizing each scene. Lugansky did this so well I could practically see the dancers before my eyes.

The audience could hardly wait to give him a standing ovation at the end of the concert, and Lugansky was ready with an encore: more Rachmaninoff, the Prelude in G Minor, a swaggering, virile work with a lyrical, yearning middle section.  Just what the audience needed before they swaggered home for the evening.

The Nikolai Lugansky Web Site