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Rachmaninoff: Piano Concertos 3 & 4 by…

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concertos 3 & 4

by Sergei Rachmaninov

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Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943)

Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30

[1] I. Allegro ma non tanto [16’51]
[2] II. Intermezzo [11’12]
[3] III. Finale (Alla breve) [14’53]

Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 40
[4] I. Allegro vivace (Alla breve) [10’27]
[5] II. Largo [7’10]
[6] III. Allegro vivace [9’35]

Nikolai Lugansky, piano
State Academy Symphony Orchestra of Russia
Ivan Shpiller

Recorded: 1995, The Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory.

Challenge Classics, 1996. 70’17. Liner notes by Ronald Vermeulen.


Challenge Classics certainly made the best of the young Nikolai Lugansky (b. 1972). Between 1992 and 1995, they made him record four discs on Dutch and Russian soil. Three of them were all-Rachmaninoff, this one, the complete etudes and the Second Sonata plus the “Corelli” Variations and several short pieces. The fourth was an all-Schumann program, including the Symphonic Etudes, the First Sonata and the Toccata. Not bad for a pianist hardly in his twenties, is it?

Twenty-three is a lovely age, but not one at which pianists should attempt “Rach 3”, the only concerto, so far as I know, which has received a nickname by popular demand. But Lugansky’s precocity is extraordinary. He sounds in no way technically insecure or musically uncertain. He neither tries to impress you with speed and volume, nor stands reverential in front of “the most difficult concerto in the standard repertoire”. So many young virtuosos get lost on these treacherous paths! Not Lugansky. He blends power and poetry with rare success. This is a remarkable performance for any age. For twenty-three, it is indeed extraordinary.

It was audacious to choose the Fourth Concerto for a “filler”. Except in one special case of close artistic rapport (i.e. Michelangeli), Rachmaninoff’s last concerto is recorded out of politeness for complete sets. It is by far the least popular among his works for piano and orchestra. I can understand that. I have never come to grips with this work. It always sounds to me, like the peculiar style of some conductors, as a succession of great moments which somehow never amount to a great whole. But it does have its moments, and Lugansky plays the hell out of them. As in the case of the Third Concerto, you will never guess the age of the performer.

A decade or so later, Lugansky recorded again both concertos in better sound and with better orchestral support. But the solo parts in these early recordings are every bit as good. If I may be so bold, I might even suggest the Fourth Concerto is even better piano-wise, by turns more relaxed and more dazzling. There is nothing very much wrong with the sound or the conducting here, but there is nothing special about them either. They are merely serviceable. The symphonic scope and the rich orchestration in both concertos deserve better, but they have seen much worse. The liner notes are superficial and sloppy, but never mind them. ( )
  Waldstein | Nov 16, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sergei Rachmaninovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lugansky, Nikolaimain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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