Lugansky opens season with power and poetry for Friends of Chamber Music

By Inesa Gegprifti

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky  performed music of Schumann and Rachmaninoff Thursday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky performed music of Schumann and Rachmaninoff Thursday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Nikolai Lugansky opened the concert season for Friends of Chamber Music of Miami Thursday evening at the University of Miami’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall.  

Friends of Chamber Music has been bringing to Miami outstanding artists for over 60 years, and while most of them reappear annually, it is still always thrilling to listen to excellent piano playing and musicianship. 

Known for his impeccable technique and powerful interpretations, Lugansky did not disappoint in a program of music by Schumann, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. Pianistic capabilities aside, he is a performer who does not hold back and leaves it all on the stage.  

The program started with Schumann’s Kinderszenen, a deceptively difficult work to begin with, especially for an initially noisy audience. This set of 13 character pieces was written in 1838 and, as noted by his wife-to be Clara Wieck, Schumann displays here his child-like qualities in life and music.

Described by the composer as “nothing more than delicate hints for execution and interpretation,” these brief pieces highlighted Lugansky’s ability to extract both sonorous and ethereal sounds from the piano. Particularly delightful was his exploration of layered soft dynamics in “Pleading Child” and “Dreaming.” In the more extroverted movements, such as “An Important Event” and “Knight of the Hobby Horse,” his direct chordal attacks sometimes overpowered the playful atmosphere of the music. With depth of tone, “The Poet Speaks” induced a fitting level of seriousness. 

Chopin’s Barcarolle and Ballade in F minor are both representative of the musical and technical minefields that this master composer presents his interpreters with.  

Luganksy’s undeniable technical facility shone consistently in the sparkling flourishes and quick octave passages. Although more emphatically phrased than customary, the passionate chordal theme of the Barcarolle was uplifting and retained its gondola-inspired motion. 

The Ballade in F minor is by far the most contrapuntal of the four and as such it can pose additional challenges. Lugansky enunciated with warmth and care the contrapuntal lines, providing a sense of expressive variety. He breezed through the exceptionally demanding passagework and created expansive waves of sound with astute use of the pedal. The narrative nature of the Ballade took on Shakespearean proportions as Lugansky seemed to be driven by a visceral force in the climactic moments. 

The second half was a full immersion into Rachmaninoff’s world with selections from both books of his Preludes. While not noted in the program, the chosen Preludes were Nos. 1, 3, 8, 9, 4, and 5 from Op. 23 and Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 12, and 13 from Op. 32, which created an all-encompassing view of the composer’s output in this genre. 

Lugansky’s affinity for Rachmaninoff’s writing was palpable from the first notes of the popular F-sharp minor Prelude (Op. 23 No. 1). A musical journey through the angst, melancholic, thunderous, whimsical, and mercurial characters found in these pieces, was supported with superb command of the instrument. Lugansky played with conviction and clarity, always connected to the core of the music. 

He brought out the sumptuous sonorities of the dense harmonies, glided through double-note passages (as in Op. 23, No. 9), and evoked orchestral timbres in varying textures. His interpretation of the overplayed G minor Prelude (Op. 23 No. 5) was refreshing as he managed to convey an overarching structure while emphasizing smaller details. The passionate middle section resonated with grace and elegance, never sounding hackneyed. 

His performance of the D major Prelude (Op. 23 No. 4) was one of the most heartfelt and sensitive moments of the concert with silky, ear-embracing arpeggios coupled with the richly projected melody. 

The Díaz Trio continues the season for Friends of Chamber Music of Miami with a program of Mozart and Beethoven 8 p.m. November 16 at Temple Beth Am.


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Fri Nov 3, 2017
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