Pianist Lugansky brings cool power and command to recital

By David Fleshler

Nikolai Lugansky performed a recital Sunday night at Florida International University to open the season for Friends of Chamber Music.

For a specialist in the swashbuckling works of the Romantic era, Nikolai Lugansky plays in a surprisingly reserved manner.

Dressed formally in tails, the 39-year-old Russian pianist entered Wertheim Auditorium at Florida International University Sunday evening and sat down to open a recital of Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninoff with Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Minor, Op. 60. Although his performance seemed too straightforward to express the work’s poetry, it gained steam in the busier passages toward the end.

More successful was his playing of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52. He gave a piercingly moving account of the main theme, and his playing seemed to grow more committed as the music became more difficult. If he was sometimes too reserved in lyric sections, he could go too far the other way in the complex passagework, allowing the Ballade’s coda to become something of a blur.

Technically Lugansky is an almost flawless pianist, nailing virtually every note no matter how rapid the passage or how many keys he had to hit at once, an impressive feat in a recital of music composed by three piano virtuosos. His expert touch at the keyboard brought ample color and transparency to Liszt’s Les Jeux D’Eau a la Villa d’Este, as he played the rapid high notes in a way that convincingly portrayed fountains of water.

His performance of Liszt’s Vallee d’Obermann was the most impressive technical accomplishment of the evening, a thundering exercise in old-fashioned 19th-century virtuosity. He brought it to an almost symphonic climax, his hands a blur in the lightning double octaves. If anything, the music seemed to come too easily to him, robbing the performance of the intensity that comes with effort.

The performance belatedly opened the season for Friends of Chamber Music of Miami, and it marked the first of several concerts the organization is holding outside its usual venue at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. Other performances will be held at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach and the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in southwest Miami-Dade County, as well as Wertheim and Gusman.

Yakov Kasman

For the second half of the recital, Lugansky was joined by fellow Russian Yakov Kasman for a two-piano performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances as a tribute to the late Loretta Dranoff, founder of the Murray Dranoff International Two-Piano Competition in Miami.

The performance was a complete success, with the two pianists playing Rachmaninoff’s score as if they had been rehearsing together for weeks. The work was originally composed for orchestra, and while it may have lost some color in the two-piano version, it gained in clarity and rhythmic bite in the performance by these two artists.

Kasman’s style is warmer than Lugansky’s, and in his hands Rachmaninoff’s melodies gained in passion. But both pianists played a committed, exciting performance with several memorable moments — the buildup to the return of the theme in the first section, the long floating melody of the second, the melody of the final section, surrounded by rapid arpeggios and complex harmonies in two pianos, yet coming through as clearly as if played by another instrument.

As an encore, they gave an energetic account of Nikolai Medtner’s Russian Round Dance.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Pianist Lugansky brings cool power and command to recital”

  1. Posted Nov 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm by gina

    Saying that Kasman played in a warmer manner than Lugansky is a travesty. Kasman was a parody of Lugansky’s professionalism, intensity, and hypnotic talent.

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Tue Nov 15, 2011
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