RACHMANINOV Piano Sonatas Nos 1, Op 28 & No 2, Op 36
If, like me, you feel that Rachmaninov’s First Sonata doesn’t quite stack up, Nikolai Lugansky’s account may just cause you to have second thoughts. Many of its figurations, rhythmic patterns and other ideas seem to be a rehearsal for (and are put to more effective use in) the glorious Third Piano Concerto which followed the composition of the Sonata. Certainly one does not need to be cognisant of the composer’s Faust-Gretchen-Mephistopheles programme to appreciate its many arresting passages. As in the Second Sonata, Lugansky’s superb performance is endorsed by the rich, full tone of the piano – which he exploits from the fullest fff in the bass to the most ethereal treble pianissimos – captured at Potton Hall by producer/sound recorder Nicolas Bartholomée.
Opinions may vary as to which of the two official versions of the Second Sonata is preferable: the original 1913 work or the considerably compressed 1931 alternative. The booklet writer states that Lugansky ‘presents his own vision of the work [by making] a number of significant cuts to [the 1913 version] by adopting here and there elements from the second one, following his own preferences and tastes’. One would only know this after buying the CD, taking it home and reading the booklet – which can’t be right. After several perusals, though, I could not spot any ‘significant cuts’ or other changes to the 1913 version beyond the appropriation of some textual alternatives from the 1931 revision. The last pages (presto) of the finale, frequently marred by blurred detail, are here not only lucidly projected but quite thrilling, emblematic of the disc as a whole: Rachmaninov-playing of a very high order.