Nikolai Lugansky’s Intensity, Transformed in Debussy

To mark the centenary of composer Claude Debussy's death, Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky has recorded atmospheric pieces that reveal Debussy’s unique world of changeable light and weather, and it's WCRB's CD of the Week.

In 2012, Nikolai Lugansky made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut with Rachmaninoff’s epic Third Piano Concerto. He was so connected to the soaring and turbulent charge that makes the piece fly that the audience went wild. He worked the piano's hammers into a frenzy with a masterful sense of timing and an innate understanding of the lengthy phrases that make Rachmaninoff so thrilling.

Now Lugansky has created an intimate CD of music by a different composer, one who used to ask his students to make the piano's hammers disappear altogether. Those who heard and studied with Debussy found it hard to describe his artistry. He seemed to be “playing directly on the strings;” the tone was “elusive and ethereal;” his fingers seemed flat; he “brushed the keys.” But through all the shimmer and impossibly velvety touch, there was a precision that reflected Debussy’s obsession with the very nature of light. 

That prismatic precision comes through in this hour-long trip into Debussy’s universe. Lugansky’s intensity and directness is transformed, but still there, even in the softest of Debussy’s French landscapes. Always communicative, Lugansky brings an edge to Debussy’s moonlight (Clair de lune, track 6) and a special tug to the wind that bends the flowers in Gardens in the Rain (track 9). His control of sound and color give the Bells Across the Leaves (track 10) a melancholy kind of urgency. He opens with L’Isle joyeuse, a piece that works itself up into a special kind of ecstasy, just as charged as Rachmaninoff’s, but with the story told not through the breath of the characters, but through the sparkling and hopeful breath of the waves of the sea.

Watch a performance of Lugansky at WCRB's Fraser Performance Studio:

Listen to an interview with Lugansky on WCRB's podcast, The Answered Question:

To listen to tracks, to purchase this recording, and to learn more, visit Harmonia Mundi's online store.