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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Opp 101, 109 & 111

Nikolai Lugansky (piano) (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Piano Sonatas, Opp 101, 109 & 111
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902441   67:49 mins


Nikolai Lugansky may be nearly 50, but he still comes across like the stripling he was when – as part of a posse of Russian pianists making London their second home in the early ’90s – he first came to perform in the West. What he brought, and still retains, is that muscular weight in his sound which was the touchstone of Soviet pianism; the great Tatiana Nikolayeva was one of his teachers. Every performance he gives has spaciousness and authority; his technical security is rock-like.

And so it is here, as he climbs this pianistic Everest. The only reservation I have concerns his failure to bring out the full poetry of the first movement of Op. 109, and to mark the contrast between its two modes – the recitatives are nowhere near mysterious enough. But in every other respect that work comes over with sweet persuasiveness: the tenderness of the first variation is all the more effective for being restrained, and the climactic one has exultant power. The parade-ground spit and polish of his military march in the second movement of Op. 101 contrasts nicely with the dreamy grace of what has gone before, and with the visionary territory which he conjures up in the Adagio.

No less satisfying is his account of the final sonata. If the first movement evinces a raw ferociousness, the variations are perfectly paced, measured at first, then breaking out with exuberance in the syncopated variation before the extraordinary closing explorations. Some pianists seek to guide us heavenwards at that point, but this one keeps us earthbound – and happy.

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Michael Church