Chopin

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano); Sinfonia Varsovia/Alexander Vedernikov
CATALOGUE NO: AM 212

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One of the most recorded – and most natural – pairings in the repertoire, Chopin’s Piano Concertos can still disclose new secrets in the best performances. To say that Nikolai Lugansky’s accounts reveal nothing new is not to imply they are poor. On the contrary, Chopin is estimably served in these objective, well-behaved performances, but Lugansky’s recording doesn’t stand out in a crowded field that includes such great interpreters as Rubinstein and Argerich. It is probably bad luck for Naïve that its release coincides with Linn’s new recording featuring Ingrid Fliter, so consistently fresh and imaginative (reviewed March 2014). The present recording tells us little we don’t already know about Lugansky or Chopin, other than confirming the pianist as an idiomatic Chopin player.

Neither of the Concertos are, of course, political in any sense, but both were composed shortly before the anti-tsarist November Uprising of 1830 and there is a spirit of elegant defiance in this music. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to find little instinct for such elements in the interpretations of these two Russian artists. Although the Sinfonia Varsovia has this music in its blood, it fails to deliver translucent performances under Alexander Vedernikov, and the folk influences in both finales (the krakowiak in the E minor concerto, the mazurka in the F minor) are underplayed. The disc presents the Concertos in the order in which they were written, which means the Piano Concerto No. 2 comes first, bringing out the best in Lugansky here. Understanding the music’s shy qualities, he also supplies considerable dash and lilt in its finale.

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John Allison