Nikolai Lugansky / Kent Nagano

Grieg, Prokofiev: Piano Concertos

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Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky is a fearsome technician who won many of Russia's top competitions on the way up. He is reputed to have played a Beethoven sonata from memory at the age of five, and hearing his playing here you can imagine that it's true: he's the icily correct prodigy type. Some love him and some find him rather mechanical, and the solution to this conundrum can be found by listening to this release on France's Naïve label. Lugansky is here backed by the rather unlikely combination of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and somewhat fashion-forward Californian Kent Nagano, but Nagano plays it straight and keeps the focus on the pianist. How good is this rising Russian? In the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26, he is very good indeed. This is not a virtuoso showpiece in the Lisztian manner but is difficult from start to finish, with every bit of the piano part made up of lengthy decorations in parallel sixths and the like. The work is all about precision, and Lugansky delivers it in abundance; not a note or little gesture is missed. The news is not so good in the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, which is entirely competent but rarely anything else. But those looking for a recording of the Prokofiev C major concerto will find Lugansky's in the top echelon.

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