Hot on the heels of Lang Lang's new Prokofiev 3 comes this release by the equally estimable, if slightly less starry, Nikolai Lugansky. The two pianists could hardly be more different in style, with Lugansky offering a wonderfully solid brand of pianism, the notes sounding more "filled to capacity", like bubbles with a liquid centre, as opposed to the air-filled ones of Lang Lang that rise iridescent into the air and even change shape as they go. Much as I like the surface excitement and expressiveness of Lang Lang, and think his version of this piece is possibly the most exciting ever recorded, I find myself equally in thrall to Lugansky's restraint. There is a masculine power in his command of the keyboard that hides a tender heart, pushing ahead at a fractionally faster tempo in all three movements, and he is also an ideal player in a different way. What the other version does have is an expanded aural profile provided by the engineers, and Rattle's contribution with possibly the greatest orchestra in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic. I've not been particularly keen on Kent Nagano's conducting live, but here he does a good job, both in the Prokofiev and the Grieg. The orchestra - also from Berlin - does sound more boxed in as recorded in the modern-looking Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin-Dahlem, but this does not preclude some unexpected details coming across in the middle string parts in the Grieg, for instance, and Lugansky is, as I say, a pianist of substance, thoughtful and of sincere emotion. The last movement of the Grieg is splendidly rollicking and has moments of real brilliance, with the most electrifying definition and cushioned power in the notes. He must have the heart of a giant - very likely the choice between this and the Lang Lang will come down to the coupling, with the Grieg offering a more popular complement, placed first in the sequence, where Lang Lang sets the Prokofiev against the more modern Bartok.
This recording, made in 2013, offers an unusual coupling of two major concertos that are normally very differently coupled. That choice of coupling is clearly thought-provoking in its unusualness and Lugansky's approach to both works is equally thought-provoking.
Instead of taking an overtly extrovert approach to either work where the music can almost bubble with excitement and effervescence, he adopts a more inward approach. This involves some steadier tempi than usual but this does not imply any sense of heaviness. On the contrary, one's attention is drawn to much felicitous detail throughout both works which is refreshingly attractive rather than being pedantic in any way.
More openly outward-going versions of the Grieg can be heard in numerous recordings such as those by Curzon, Fleisher, Kovacevich and Lupu from many years ago up to that by Andsnes more recently. The Prokofiev is equally well represented by lively performances from Katchen, van Cliburn, Argerich, Ashkenazy, Beroff and more recently by Kissin and Krainev, several of which are available in complete sets of the five concertos. This is not intended to be a definitive list but rather a sample of the excellent choices available of that nature.
This pair of recordings by Lugansky stands apart from those by offering a different type of performance as described earlier. It may not be everyone's favourite as an 'only' recording but it ought to qualify as being of particular interest and satisfaction to collectors interested in perceptive and notable alternative readings which deliver excellence but a little off the main stream. In that respect this disc is typical of much of Lugansky's work and as such will be instantly recognised by his regular supporters. Those who warm to his Chopin, Rachmaninov and Liszt will find much to admire and value in this disc.
The recording itself is faithful with good dynamic range and tonal depth. The balance between soloist and orchestra is good. The orchestra led by Nagano is fully up to all that is required of them.
This is therefore a fine disc and well worth investigating, especially for collectors and/or supporters of this soloist.
Where were Decca, DG and EMI when Lugansky was up for grabs?
Here we have the finest recorded interpretations of Prokofiev 3 and the Grieg Concerto. Stunning, masterly playing full of thought and individuality. Listen to how Lugansky separates those chords in the last movement of the Grieg, 4 bars before letter B making the music sound more nostalgic than ever.
Kent Nagano's perfect conducting, discreet and alert is what made their earlier Tchaikovsky 1 disc such a winner.
A most amazing cohesion between orchestra and piano reveals the class of Prokofievs concerto , in the league of Stravinsky style bizzarity , and played with immense clarity , there is a magic in this music . The Grieg is OK as well . Difficult to make something so well known sound refreshed and I found it slightly ponderous in a couple of places , but still finds the grandeur of the great concerto , if only just .