Nikolai Lugansky is the son of research scientists. He first received piano lessons around the age of five from a neighbour, Sergei Ipatov, who had been a pupil of Konstantin Igumnov. At seven, Lugansky entered the Central School of Music in Moscow where he studied with Tatyana Kestner, a pupil of Alexander Goldenweiser. When Kestner died in 1985, Lugansky became a pupil of Tatyana Nikolayeva and studied with her for nine years. At sixteen Lugansky won the All-Union Competition for Young Musicians in Tbilisi, and second prize at the International Bach Competition in Leipzig. Lugansky played in Japan with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and Saulus Sondeckis and a year later in 1990 performed at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival with the same orchestra. After his debut at London’s Wigmore Hall, Lugansky performed for the first time in Holland and later that year gave a concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He was invited to return to Holland the following season and in 1991 returned to Japan for eleven concerts with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Vladimir Fedoseyev. In November 1992 Lugansky toured Germany with the State Symphony Orchestra and Evgeny Svetlanov.
When Tatyana Nikolayeva died in 1993 Lugansky was preparing for the 1994 International Tchaikovsky Competition, so he continued to study with her assistant, Sergei Dorensky. Lugansky won second prize at the Rachmaninov Competition in Moscow, but it was his winning of the International Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of twenty-two that launched his career. He has played throughout the world with such conductors as Riccardo Chailly, Kent Nagano, Valery Gergiev, Leonard Slatkin and Yuri Temirkanov. His repertoire is centred on the Russian Romantics and he plays much music by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Schumann and Chopin. He has over forty concertos in his repertoire.
Lugansky first appeared on Melodya LPs in the late 1980s in recordings of his live recitals in Moscow. He then recorded for Vanguard Classics, a company based in Holland, for whom he recorded a disc of Rachmaninov’s solo music including the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op.
36. This is a good performance but unfortunately Lugansky plays the 1931 revised version of this work. Also on the disc is a scintillating Scherzo from Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another disc (originally recorded for Fidelio Classics but reissued by Vanguard) contained the complete Études-tableaux Opp. 33 and 39. There is some impressive playing from the twenty-year-old Lugansky, but loud passages exhibit a forced tone that may be the fault of the recording. On a Schumann disc Lugansky plays the Études Symphoniques Op. 13, the Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor Op. 11 and the Toccata Op. 7. Lugansky was still only twenty-three when he recorded Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos 3 and 4 with the State Symphony Orchestra and Ivan Shpiller. Other discs for Vanguard include a Chopin recital and Mozart’s Piano Concertos in D minor K. 466 and F major K. 459.
In 1998 Lugansky began to record for the French label Erato (part of Warner Classics). His first recording was a departure from his more usual Russian Romantic repertoire: Young Apollo Op. 16 by Benjamin Britten. His first solo disc was of the complete études of Chopin. These received mixed reviews, and indeed, although the technique here is exemplary, the performances sound somehow lightweight. Lugansky is better in a Chopin recital built around the twenty-four Préludes Op. 28. Whereas he seemed to skim the surface of the études, in the préludes as well as the Ballades Nos 3 and 4 and three of the nocturnes, Lugansky reveals more of the poetic depth of these works. A disc of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 3 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is fleet rather than hot-blooded, and his most recent disc for Warner Classics UK, with the same orchestra, includes Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op. 43.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).