For a Russian super virtuoso, Nikolai Lugansky seems to be a shy guy. That Lugansky is a Russian super virtuoso is a sure thing. His previous recordings have all stuck to the Russian super virtuoso repertoire of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev with some Chopin thrown in. And Lugansky's previous recordings have all been at their best when the repertoire is at its most super virtuosic. When the prestississimo double octaves are flashing and the fortississimo ten-finger chords are smashing, Nikolai Lugansky seems to be the super virtuosos heir to Horowitz.
But when it comes to emotion, you can count Lugansky out. In this disc of super virtuoso variations by the super emotional Rachmaninov, Lugansky rips through the hundreds of thousands of notes with aplomb and panache, but when he gets to the mushy stuff, Lugansky stiffens up. In the crash and rattle of the outer variations of the Paganini Rhapsody, Lugansky is brilliant. But in the gushy Variation No. 18 -- one of the great makeout pieces of music of all time -- Lugansky turns prudish and pulls back from the climax. Because the Corelli Variations are made of sterner stuff, Lugansky's shyness is no crime. But because the Chopin Variations are as lubricious as they are lugubrious, Lugansky seems less like the heir to the super emotional Horowitz than to a prom queen in a mosh pit. Warner's sound is clean, but not clean enough, and warm, but perhaps too warm.