La Roque D’anthéron: Les Pianos de la Nuit, Nikolai Lugansky

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Rachmaninov,Wagner


Of nearly 90 pianists who took part in the 2002 La Roque d’Anthéron International Piano Festival in Provence, eight gave short recitals (from one hour to 90 minutes) filmed live in partnership with Idéale Audience International. Later the films were shown theatrically, and are now brought out by Naïve as individual DVD releases.

In the hands of Nikolai Lugansky, Brahms’s Op. 118 piano pieces range from unduly rounded-off and languorous (the first and last, for example) to supple dialogues of light and shade (No. 4 in F minor).

They serve as a warm-up to Lugansky’s own transcription of excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung that encompasses ‘Dawn’ and portions of the Brünnhilde/Siegfried love duet (notice the gradual shift from dark backlighting to brightness, for those who can’t perceive the same effect in the music), ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ and ‘Funeral March’, and, jumping ahead, to Valhalla’s conflagration.

Much of the playing abounds in gratuitous ritardandos and rubatos that draw attention to the pianist rather than Wagner’s creative genius, although the ‘Rhine Journey’ is as direct and buoyant as the best orchestral renditions. Film-maker Andy Sommer brings a wide array of lighting and restless cross-cutting effects to Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Études, mirroring pianist boris berezovsky’s similarly flighty, fidgety, distracting interpretations.

What tempo does he really want for Nos 1 and 10? No. 2 is pounded out to the point where you can barely ascertain the pitches. The pianist blurs Mazeppa’s inner double notes, and fusses and frets over Eroica and Wilde Jagd, as if Liszt doesn’t give you enough to do. No wonder Berezovsky’s perspiring! françois-frédéric guy’s Liszt recital, by contrast, is about virtuosity serving the composer, rather than the other way around, and Yvon Gérault’s visual counterpart allows you to observe the pianist’s physical economy and concentration in long stretches.

Call the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude and the Pensées des morts ‘box office poison’, but Guy’s ravishing nuances and varied textures are rivetting. And his Liszt Sonata truly sings and breathes as the musical ideas flow in and out of each other in long, inevitable arcs. It’s also good that internal chapter points demarcate these long, continuous works.

There is less visual interest in Chloé Perlemuter’s film of an all-Schubert recital, yet paul lewis’s highly touted artistry yields considerable rewards. Of the six Moments musicaux, note Lewis’s impetuous, alluringly voiced accounts of Nos 1, 2, 5 and 6. The big D894 G major Sonata’s last movement gets bogged down in detail as it progresses (Lewis looks as if he’s working harder than he needs to), but his flowing, well-sustained treatment of the first three movements makes the music appear less extended than it can often seem.

The German school of playing finds a particularly talented exponent in vanessa wagner. She commands a beautiful, bronze-coloured sonority built from the bottom up, finger-oriented legato phrasing, strong attention to bass lines and a generally sober demeanour. Her Brahms Op. 10 Ballades are cases in point, even with her unusually rapid No. 3. The third and fourth movements of Schumann’s F sharp minor Sonata are less individually characterised than Wagner’s tightly unfolding, crystal-clear way with the discursive opening movement and sublime ‘Aria’.

Although the notes accompanying jazz pianist leonid chizhik’s recital cite influences like Sergei Rachmaninov and Bill Evans, his original compositions instead suggest Chick Corea’s airy voicings and Keith Jarrett’s darker corners, minus the memorable tunes. His frequent walking bass lines cultivate a bowed rather than plucked sense of forward drive as they support darting right-hand runs that begin with gusto and definition, then frequently splinter into loose ends.

A little of his playing goes a long way, and works best in small doses. Likewise, the whole recital of finger-twisting showpieces offered by super-virtuoso francesco libetta should be savoured one dessert at a time, so to speak.

The point behind impossible piano music like Chopin-Godowsky Études, Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel arranged by Édouard Risler, Liszt’s solo version of Totentanz, Saint-Saëns’s Étude en forme de valse, or Alkan’s ‘20 ans’ from Les quatre âges is that it should sound effortless. Libetta certainly accomplishes that, and, in addition, makes it all look so easy, abetted by Bruno Monsaingeon’s subtle, seasoned camera choreography.

Lastly, a remarkable recital by zoltán kocsis juxtaposes Liszt’s nationalist and cryptic late styles (including the Fifth Hungarian Rhapsody and Csárdás macabre) with cannily selected miniatures by Bartók (For Children) and Kurtág (excerpts from Games, dedicated to Kocsis).


The pianist also bridges Beethoven’s transitional, pre-late-period style (the E minor Op. 90 Sonata) with early Schubert (two movements from his own Sonata in that same key, D566) into Bartók’s thorny yet concise three-movement Sonata. János Darvas’s camerawork occasionally lets us glimpse Kúrtag’s handwritten score from which Kocsis plays, and captures the pianist’s calm, focused body language, prism-like sonority and elegantly proportioned phrasing.