Nikolai Lugansky

Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas 1 & 2

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Nikolai Lugansky's 2012 release of Sergey Rachmaninov's two piano sonatas is an in-depth exploration that compels close listening from beginning to end. These post-romantic works are typical of Rachmaninov's dense and sometimes over-wrought style, and they need an interpreter who not only can execute their virtuosic passagework cleanly, but also discern what is important and make it transparent. Lugansky certainly has the skills to play this music with dazzling speed and impressive muscularity, but he seems rather more inclined to clarify the themes and harmonies than to create a pianistic sensation. Because of his clear thinking and steady technical control, the essentials are easily found, and the torrents of notes never drown out the melodies or the secondary lines that provide continuity. Lugansky has acquired an enviable reputation for his Liszt performances, rightly so for their luminosity and brilliance. The textures are considerably heavier and thicker in Rachmaninov, so what comes across is less light and sparkling effervescence than dark undercurrents in the bass and intense physical activity that is, at times, thunderous. Fortunately, Lugansky holds the expressive excesses of the sonatas in check and delivers disciplined and coherent readings. Naïve's immaculate reproduction brings out many of the quieter details.

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