Rachmaninov: Études-tableaux, Opp. 33 & 39

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Challenge
WORKS: Études-tableaux, Opp. 33 & 39
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72057 Reissue (1992)
Nikolai Lugansky makes a strong case for the Études-tableaux, not just as a pianist but also in his own booklet notes. There’s no question in my mind, though, that Rachmaninov’s inspiration burnt less brightly here than in his earlier Preludes, though oddly enough, the second set of Études-tableaux is stronger than the first. Lugansky has the lean athleticism of a big cat, and its cold ferocity when called upon, too. It’s a pity, though, that the recording, made in Moscow in 1992, isn’t quite all it should be. Tracks 1 and 4 (Op. 33/1 and 7, since the order is shuffled) expose its limitations – a slightly thin, hard sound, which places the piano at a chilly distance.

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Freddy Kempf’s recording of the Op. 39 set has more presence and warmth, but while Kempf is graceful and charming, he ignores the music’s darker qualities, and in the case of Op. 39/5, he hardly attempts the forceful passion which Lugansky captures so well. Lugansky also fathoms the bleaker moods of Op. 33/8 and Op. 39/2 while remaining flexible and relaxed. For a complete recording of both sets on one disc, this reissue is unbeatable. Adrian Jack