Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2: No. 14, Moonlight; No. 17, Tempest; No. 23, Appassionata
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902442 66:43 mins
This second release in Nikolai Lugansky’s ongoing Beethoven cycle comprises three of the most famous ‘named’ sonatas, although the Moonlight and the Appassionata only acquired their titles after Beethoven’s death and the evidence that he associated the D minor Sonata with Shakespeare’s Tempest rests on the testimony of his unreliable biographer Anton Schindler. Since there is a clear line of stylistic development between Opp. 27, 31 and 57, it is odd that the Appassionata appears here after the Moonlight, placing the Tempest last: order of composition would surely make more musical sense? On the other hand, the direct, full recorded sound captures this player’s qualities almost to a fault.
Here, amplified by the resources of a modern concert grand (its make unspecified in the notes), is all the cast-iron virtuosity, gestural vehemence and the depth of sonority of the Russian school that is required to play Rachmaninov. But Beethoven? Lugansky launches the Moonlight, marked pianissimo by
the composer, at a weighty mezzo-piano, rising at times to near forte, while the Allegretto middle movement is too stolidly articulated to dance. He does find a gentler touch for those mysterious slow arpeggios and recitatives that punctate the impetuous first movement of the Tempest Sonata. Yet the most successful reading is, predictably, the Appassionata, with a fine, sweeping account of the vast first movement and an almost visceral fury in the headlong peroration of the finale. An imposing recital, without doubt, but not always easy to warm to.