Chopin: Piano Sonata No.3

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Onyx
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58; Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. 66; Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45; Scherzo No. 4 in E; Nocturne in F, Op. 15/1 etc
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Onyx 4049

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Severe, measured, with few risks taken and fewer colours imagined, Nikolai Lugansky’s focus in this Chopin programme is unrelentingly inward, the surface as polished and immaculate as a Steinway’s lid.

His tone quality is always singing, pure and richly cushioned; a few moments shine out, such as the end of the B minor Sonata’s slow movement in which his hands, artfully placed slightly out of sync, meander in opposite directions. 

But how can a celebrated and undoubtedly accomplished pianist have such a paucity of musical imagination? He evokes, at most, four or five shades of emotion in the entire programme. For expressiveness, read slowing down, or that minutely calculated dislocation of hands.

His virtuosity is stolid and safe rather than devil-may-care risk taking. In the Sonata he accomplishes rapid fingerwork as evenly as can be – but to what end? There are none of the thrills, spills and moonbeams Chopin’s writing invites. And where Dinu Lipatti offers incandescent tenderness, Lugansky’s slow movement sounds complacent and devoid of inspiration. 

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With heavy, lumpen accents, the Scherzo No. 4 lacks all semblance of wit; his F minor Fantaisie has the drama and subtlety of an average whodunnit. Try Lipatti for Chopin playing of true poetic engagement, passion and elegance. Jessica Duchen