Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Variations on a Theme of Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Variations on a Theme of Chopin
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano); CBSO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 2564-60613-2
You have to read the very small print on the cover to realise that the Rachmaninov works on offer here are his three sets of variations; ‘Lugansky’ in large typeface overshadows all else. Not that this turns out be anything like an exercise in virtuosic ego; Lugansky is so rigorously – some still maintain coolly – in control of his formidable technique that the music always comes first. He even ends up playing second fiddle at times to the amazing bite and precision of Oramo and the CBSO in the Paganini Rhapsody. After the orchestra’s opening gambit, never more taut and exciting, Lugansky keeps it clear and subtle to allow the many orchestral solos in this truly concertante performance to shine through, bringing chordal power to back up ensembles and only letting rip in the rollercoaster finale. As the famous 18th variation begins, Lugansky’s justly celebrated sense of space and centredness finally comes to the fore. In the Corelli Variations, a calm contrast at first to the Rhapsody’s manic final drive, the heart and soul evoke Richter’s poise (elsewhere the purposefully drier touch is reminiscent of Prokofiev, rather than Rachmaninov, the pianist). The earlier and much longer-winded Variations on Chopin’s C minor Prelude demand an even bigger range of effects, handsomely recorded: sample Lugansky’s encyclopedic art in the looming terror of Var. 17 and the transcendental presto of Var. 20. Nowhere in these performances could one agree with Jeremy Siepmann’s booklet-note proposal that these are merely ‘collections of miniatures strung together like the beads of a pleasingly variegated necklace’; altogether greater forces are at work throughout. David Nice