Chopin: Études, Opp. 10 & 25; Trois nouvelles études

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Études, Opp. 10 & 25; Trois nouvelles études
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-80228-2
Chopin’s 27 Studies really are endless. Only a few pianists are really on top of all the technical demands, and even then the full extent of Chopin’s expressive range seems beyond any pianist.

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Despite winning the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in 1994, Nikolai Lugansky is no heavyweight, even though he has an athletic technique. The first and last studies of the Op. 10 set both lack intensity and weight in his hands, and he makes the lovely Third Study sound salonish and shallow. But where nimble fingers and agility count, he can be amazing. He runs up and down those treacherous chromatic scales in the second study of Op. 10 like a squirrel on a tree trunk, and I have never felt so disarmed by a performance of the F major piece, Op. 10/8, in which the right and left hands are each given their individual character in a spirit of crisp elation.

Temperamentally, Lugansky can be cool and reserved, or reflective – the latter quality unusually to the fore (and very appealing) in the upwards-rolling chords of the penultimate study of Op. 10 or the slow C sharp minor study of Op. 25. On the whole, the second set is much more suited to Lugansky’s style, and I like the way he plays almost every piece. The grace-note, or ‘hiccup’ study, No. 5 in the set, and the rapid double notes of the study following it are amazingly easy-sounding.

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At the opposite pole from Lugansky, Garrick Ohlsson, in a rather foggy Arabesque recording, digs deep into the expressive possibilities of the music, while Yuki Matsuzawa offers as near ‘classic’ readings as you will find in a decent, clear recording. Adrian Jack