Russia comes to Rome

Russia comes to Rome
An extraordinary Nikolai Lugansky in Rome with Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini in an all Russian programme with the Orchestra dell`Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Alexander Sladkovsky.

                      Gramophone review of Harriet Smith
Nice to be reminded of our much loved Tatyana Nikolaeva who lives on in Lugansky tonight.
Wonderfully played encore of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G sharp minor op 32 n.12.
Not the melancholy and nostalgic half lights of Horowitz but a young man’s view simply and beautifully played.
“Strength and delicacy” as the Gramophone this month so rightly describes his new CD of the complete Preludes.
The Rachmaninov Rhapsody does not leave much space to a solist to ravish and seduce as in the four concertos but it is a trial of ensemble playing with the soloist injecting just that much of energy at moments when Rachmaninov’s later ramblings could seem to loose their way.
In fact Rachmaninov’s first idea was for Symphonic Variations and only later decided on the title of Rhapsody.
I have only heard one truly memorable performance in public and that was from Byron Janis who had the “Horowitz” sound that seemed to add such lustre and animal excitement to parts that can seem merely rhythmic without any chance to show the true personality of the solist.
However Lugansky with his crystalline touch and passionately forceful temperament brought just the injection to sustain a performance that was truly memorable.
The piano shook from the very first chords and we knew that we were in the presence of a very forceful personality indeed .
The tongue in cheek statement of the theme with one finger so reminiscent of Dohnanyi’s Rhapsody on a Nursery Theme playfully showing us that we had a true artist at the helm.
Some very deft and clear interweaving with the orchestra and almost improvisations with the harp disappearing into nothing like a wisp of dust on the keys.
The solemnity of the choral 7th variation was interrupted by a terrific surge of energy and great emotive involvement that kept Sladkovsky and the orchestra on their toes.
The great central cadenza shared with the harp in a duo that was to lead to all the charm and warmth of the tempo di Menuetto.
Some beautiful shading from a pianist who is not only a virtuoso but above all a musician of style with a great sense of architecture and overall shape of a work that can sometimes seem very fragmented.
The solo “piu vivo” variation with an unusual insistence on the staccato quavers was amazingly assured and never allowing for a second the tempo to waver as it so easily can in lesser hands.
The famous 18th variation simply and beautifully played and taken up with great passion by a conductor who up until this moment had seem strangely uninvolved .
Greatly to admire was the enormous power that Lugansky could get from this magnificent but rather brilliant Steinway.
The massive octaves that abound from here until the end were played with a real full clean sound never harsh or forced.
Claudio Arrau that absolute master could get an even more full sound but tonight this was one of the nearest we have had since Arrau’s memorable Brahms performances.
Nice to note in the programme that Lugansky had won the Bach Competition di Lipsia as had his teacher Nikolaeva years before.
In fact it was Shostakovich on the jury when she won that inspired him to write his 24 Preludes and Fugues dedicated to her

Tatyana Nikolaeva with Ileana Ghione in Rome Teatro Ghione
A box inscribed to my wife and I was a treasured gift from that adorable very simple lady who we met at the airport and although not having any language in common she managed to convey a warmth and friendship which were the hallmark of her many performances for us over the years.
The Goldberg Variations; The Art of Fugue and surprisingly the Tchaikowsky Grand Sonata and Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition.
Her performance of the little Bach Siloti prelude was the first time I had heard such a magical piece and her own transcription of the D minor Organ Prelude and Fugue was yet another present dedicated to her new found family in Rome.
She had been invited to Rome years earlier by Guido Agosti who had heard her in Moscow but was sadly neglected in the west only to find herself celebrated world wide in her later years.

                     Guido and Lydia Agosti with Ileana Ghione
A favourite at the Wigmore Hall where she would think nothing of playing the Bach ’48 or 32 Beethoven Sonatas and one would often find Cherkassky in the Green Room afterwards talking affectionately in Russian together like brother and sister.
She died after having a stroke on stage in San Francisco.
She was on her way to us when we were told the unexpected news.
Another great friend Gyorgy Sandor came to celebrate our dear friend with us.
Lugansky is fast making a name for himself with Rachmaninov where he brings the same musicianship and sense of colour that he no doubt does in Bach.
Rachmaninov’s own performances were indeed much more classical than one would expect .The passion and seductive charm are within the notes without any need of too much external emotion.
It was Perlemuter that told me that Rachmaninov came on stage as though he had just swallowed a knife but the romantic sounds that he could draw from the piano were the most unique he had ever heard.
It was sad to note that Temirkanov was ill as the Russian programme had very much his imprint.
In fact the Rimsky Korsakov Legend of the invisible city of Kitez I have only ever heard from his magical hands.
Very solidly conducted by Alexander Sladkovsky who had valiantly come to the rescue but slightly missed that absolute magical conviction of Temirkanov .
Just as the Lollipops of Beecham he made very much his own.
However gradually gaining involvement with Lugansky in the Rachmaninov he went on to give a very fine account of Tchaikowsky’s 3rd Suite in G op 55
The four suites are not as often heard in the concert hall these days compared to the Symphonies and here the very Russian idiom was perfectly captured by the superb players of this magnificent orchestra .
The conductor managed to convey the very russian spirit that is so much part of this suite allowing Andrea Oliva’s flute to shine through as did the solo violin of Carlo Maria Parazzoli and the superb oboe of Paolo Pollastri.
An orchestra that listens to itself is a great orchestra indeed and under the guidance of making music together with Sir Antonio Pappano they have all learnt to put their remarkable individual artistry to service of creating music together.

Parco della Musica Sala Santa Cecilia interval

Licia Mancini,Guido Agosti,Virgilio Mortari,Arrigo Tassinari,Ileana Ghione
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