On Thursday, November 2nd, pianist Nikolai Lugansky played a recital in Miami, Florida. Over the years, I have had the privilege of hearing the seven Richter recitals in Carnegie Hall in 1960, the ten Rubinstein recitals in1961, Horowitz in November 1968 as well as producing recordings with Leonard Shure, Lazar Berman, Earl Wild, Nelson Freire, David Bar-Illan, Ivan Davis, Joseph Kalichstein and Seymour Lipkin, among others.
A few years previously, Lugansky was playing a recital the night that “Hurricane Sandy” was passing through Miami. As he was performing the last movement of the Rachmaninoff Second Sonata, the lights went out and the entire hall went totally dark – Lugansky didn’t miss a single note!
Thursday’s recital was the most stunning I have heard in many years. Lugansky began with Schumann’s Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), which, despite its name and seemingly superficial innocence and charm, is really not a work intended for children, but a work that requires the interpretation of a sophisticated, mature artist – the last of its 13 pieces is akin to a valedictory speech. Interestingly enough, when one compares Schumann’s original edition with the later version edited by his wife, Clara one finds that Clara’s metronome markings are significantly different. Whether of not Mr. Lugansky was influenced by either set of metronome markings, we will never know, but in any case, he captured the various moods of this work with a gorgeous range of sonority and subtle pedal effects.
Chopin’s Barcarolle and F minor Ballade, two of his greatest works followed. In the Barcarolle, which Alfred Cortot noted had influenced Ravel, Lugansky captured its poetic subject perfectly, while in the last Ballade the hair-raising, dramatic passage that precedes the coda was projected with utmost excitement and huge sonority. The Ballade evoked an enthusiastic standing ovation.
After intermission, Lugansky played with great brilliance and feeling13 Rachmaninoff Preludes selected from Opus 23 and 32. Again the audience reacted with a huge spontaneous standing ovation.
As President and Artistic Director of Friends of Chamber Music of Miami, I was responsible for engaging Mr. Lugansky. Present in the audience was internationally known opera producer Bliss Hebert, who worked with Stravinsky for three years after studying piano with Robert Goldsand. His comment summed up Lugansky’s playing: “Not only does Lugansky have a consummate piano technique, those long fingers combined with great intelligence and sensitivity, create total magic. He possesses a great sense of color and theatrical drama, plus a MASTERFUL use of the pedal.
Chopin believed that the pedal was at the heart of piano technique.” We concur.