This is very exciting playing in two extremely taxing works. Rachmaninov’s First Piano Sonata is not often recorded, and one can see why: inspired by Goethe’s Faust and cast as a triptych of portraits of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles, this is Rachmaninov at his most uncompromising. He pits a chorale-like transformation of Russian orthodox chant against Russian folk-like accents, exploring an almost expressionistic level of dissonance and angular keyboard textures. In the outer movements, Lugansky’s playing suggests wild abandon but in fact derives from tremendously disciplined, focused attention to Rachmaninov’s swathes of notes and pulverising rhythms. Lugansky produces plenty of fire and brimstone, but also creates a tender and refined sound in the slow movement, though his electrifying account of the Mephistopheles movement trumps all. I rate this as the best recording of this work, above those by Leslie Howard (Melba), Ashkenazy (Decca) and
Olli Mustonen (Ondine).
The Second Piano Sonata, composed five years later in 1913, is most often heard in its shortened and tautened 1932 revision, but Lugansky has here created a unique text of his own, going back to the longer and more complex 1913 version but incorporating a number of passages from the 1932 edition that he feels were positive improvements. The result is highly compelling, and Lugansky seems to stress the work’s close kinship with the First Sonata. The finale, in this reading, has an almost Scriabinesque sense of darkly blazing ecstasy. Even at its most aggressive, his playing has a clarity and an utterly convincing sense of where every passage fits into the grand design. A really impressive disc.