TCHAIKOVSKY The Seasons. Grand Sonata
As Lugansky points out in his accompanying essay, Tchaikovsky’s G major Sonata and The Seasons fall under the same opus number (albeit thanks to his publishers rather than himself), and they each reveal with particular clarity his indebtedness to Schumann, whether in the chunky, near-obsessive textures of the Sonata or the intimacy of the 12 miniatures. That they are rarely (if ever?) coupled together may be to do with their combined duration of around 82 minutes.
Not surprisingly, Lugansky shows himself a master of Tchaikovskian drama and lyricism in equal measure. In the declamatory pages of the Sonata he never resorts to shouting in order to put his point across, while more intimate passages have an attractive speaking quality. Only Richter, perhaps, was able to sustain as much interest and flow in the highly repetitive gestures or to make as powerful a case for the structure as a whole. In Lugansky’s hands the Scherzo is a wonder of clarity and the finale, while it may strike some as a little too étude-like for its own good, is nothing if not phenomenally articulate.
The Seasons is likewise delivered with consummate taste and understanding. Every nuance is scrupulously observed, and textures are coloured and orchestrated with sovereign mastery but also a sense of spontaneous delight. It’s easy to imagine Russian pianists in 1873 opening their copy of the magazine Le nouvelliste each month and enjoying each new piece in this way.
Only towards the end does Lugansky slightly lose my sympathy: his ‘October’ is far slower than Andante (admittedly following a noble Russian tradition), and his ‘November’ is by no stretch of the imagination Allegro moderato (Kolesnikov is more natural here, though still very coy for mezzo-forte). A little slip in ‘December’ at bar 20 (0'20") should have been retaken (curiously Kolesnikov has what sounds like a soft-pedal glitch in the same piece, at 0'47").
For more imaginatively interpreted accounts of The Seasons, Pletnev and Eschenbach definitely have the edge, and pianophiles shouldn’t be without the admittedly elderly-sounding Igumnov. Staying with more mainstream pianism, such as Lugansky’s or Kolesnikov’s, do seek out Youri Egorov on YouTube (I’m open to correction, but I don’t think this magical rendition ever found its way to LP or CD).