Suite bergamasque; L’isle joyeuse; Arabesques; La plus que lente; Estampes; Images pour piano – Book 2; Hommage à Haydn
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902309 54:10 mins
The latest enticing instalment of Harmonia Mundi’s splendid Debussy centenary series features Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky. His recital is built around the Suite bergamasque and the second book of Images, supplemented by the two Arabesques and a sprinkling of shorter pieces. There is plenty of dazzle from the outset, L’Isle joyeuse fizzing with such energy that it threatens to run away from Lugansky only to be brought to heel. Such heart-on-sleeve virtuosity is to the fore again in a breathless ‘Jardins sous la pluie’, which appears not with its partner pieces from the Estampes, but as a bracing shower after the wry slow waltz of La plus que lente.
Lugansky generally takes a brisk approach, keeping the first Arabesque flowing freely while, ‘Clair de lune’ has poise with no hint of self-indulgence. Nonetheless, some of the flourishes have a glassy quality and, in the second Arabesque, the bright tone that enables such sparkling pianism elsewhere, periodically becomes brittle. Delicacy and deftness of touch emerge in ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut’, the second of the Images and, as with its predecessor, ‘Cloches a travers les feuilles’ there are some striking colours if not the breathtaking magic of the best performances. Similarly, while the Hommage à Haydn has spirit, it could tease rather more. The recorded sound is up to Harmonia Mundi’s usual high standards, and there is plenty in these performances to admire, but charm and playfulness are less abundant.