Nikolai Lugansky – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky is a bit of a conundrum. There's a curiously self-effacing quality to his artistry. He has pin-up looks yet avoids conscious glamour. There are no platform histrionics and hearing him in recital, you often take away the impression of being alone with the music. This is, of course, deceptive. All performance is mediation between material and audience: Lugansky's interpretations, far from being vague, are immensely strong and subtle.

His programme – Chopin, Brahms, Liszt – was terribly difficult, typically generous and dispatched with a minimum of fuss. His Chopin, swinging between muscularity and introversion, was marginally more successful when the going got tough. The F Minor Fantaisie was doggedly intense, the familiar F Flat Polonaise Op 53 thrillingly majestic. The Fourth Scherzo brought his subtlety to the fore, with a slight, but perceptible darkening of tone speaking volumes in the repeat of the opening material after the moody central section. His reflective, improvisatory approach to Chopin's poetry, however, can lead to moments of waywardness: the Nocturne in F Op 15 No 1 curiously lacked shape.

It was brought home that this was a matter of interpretative choice by the fact that comparable moments of introspection in his Brahms and his Liszt brought with them no such intransigence. He mined the resonances of Brahms's Op 118 Klavierstücke for all they were worth. Lugansky's Liszt – Sposalizio, followed by the last three Transcendental Studies – was more about restraint than showmanship. Chasse-neige took him to his technical limits but was breathtaking in its reined-in tension. En Fa Mineur closed the recital and brought the house down in a blaze of unselfconscious glory.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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