reviews 29 Nov 11

Lugansky Delights the Kolarac

A recital by Russian superstar pianist Nikolai Lugansky merges technical brilliance with sensitivity.

Andrej Klemencic
Belgrade Insight

A cleaning lady in pink prepared the stage while a phone rang in the background. A pale man in a black tuxedo took his seat at a piano. It was going to be an interesting evening at the Kolarac.

After the lady had finished cleaning and the phone had stopped ringing, the pale man began to play Chopin.

The performance of the opening piece, the Barcarolle, was as expressionless as the pianist’s face. But after some mild applause, Nikolai Lugansky warmed up. The Prelude in C-sharp minor, opus 45, showed the Russian musician’s gift for subtle emotion. It also showed his mastery of the pause, albeit deployed with a little too much drama.

There was no room for criticism after Lugansky started Scherzo Number Four. Determined yet effortless, he cut through the short notes and showed why he is a global superstar. For his total control of the aggressive passages and fragile sentiments, he was rewarded with gusts of applause.

By the time he reached the Nocturne, opus 27, number two, listeners were trapped in a web of romantic notes. Ballade number four concluded the Chopin part of the concert, with the audience seemingly too overwhelmed by sentiment to appreciate the dynamics.

In the first half of the concert, Nikolai Lugansky demonstrated that he is a complete pianist, joining emotion and technique in a way rarely seen in the world of music.

Liszt seemed an unusual choice after the intermission. The first part of Vallee d’Obermann (Valley of Obermann) was a challenge for the audience, with its empty passages lacking the watery warmth of Chopin.

But as the piece developed, Lugansky matched the tough composition. He dominated his instrument like a true authoritarian, maintaining a balance between intense emotion and technical brilliance.

The mild applause when  he finished was a genuine surprise. You could see the confusion on Lugansky’s face. His spirits were low for the rest of the concert, though his playing lost none of its quality.

Les Jeux d’eau dans la Villa d’Este (The Play of Water at the Villa d’Este) is a fascinating voyage in the world of micro-notes that develop emotional complexity within only the upper two octaves.

The Transcendental Etudes number 10 and 12 made it clear that no alternation of rhythm, sound or emotion is too much for Lugansky. In fact, he seems to relish the impossibly difficult notes, attacking them almost physically.

This man’s playing sounds almost unworldly at times. He is a pianist heavyweight. Despite an uninspiring start, most of the concert was an absolute musical delight. Too bad that some of the audience members rushed off for their burek before they could hear the three extra pieces that Lugansky had in store.

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