Rachmaninoff: 10 Preludes Op.23 (Lugansky)

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Ashish Xiangyi Kumar
Published at : 19 Dec 2020
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It's not easy to think of a composer who was Chopin's match in writing miniatures, but Rachmaninoff at least comes very close. His preludes are marvels of textural innovation, harmonic imagination, gorgeous counterpoint (Rachmaninoff's brilliance at counterpoint is really not noticed often enough), and lyricism in all its forms -- bleak, sweeping, stark, doleful, lush. (Individual descriptions below.)

Lugansky's performances are some of my favourites. I think of him as being for Rachmaninoff what Rubinstein was for Chopin. There's nothing bloated or forced about his style, and it manages to find a perfect middle ground between harsh, steely banginess (a bit easy too easy to slip into with Rachmaninoff) and saccharine melodrama. The melodies are clear, the counterpoint well-formed, the tempi judicious, the musical peaks and troughs clear even in the densest passages. In some passages Lugansky also reveals a gift for startling coloration. With music as naturally rich as Rachmaninoff's the result is a fantastic listening experience, completely bereft of the sense of weary struggle and stiffness you sometimes get.

1. Largo, F-sharp minor -- 0:00
2. *Maestoso, B-flat major -- 3:26. Lugansky's performance is both thunderously exuberant and tightly controlled. The LH melodies in the middle section are impeccably outlined: 4:23 onward.
3. Tempo di minuetto, D minor -- 6:53. Note the striking canonic passage with diminuition at 9:28.
4. Andante cantabile, D major -- 10:27. Unorthodox harmonies scaffolding a simple but marvelous melody.
5. *Alla marcia, G minor -- 15:04. Yet again, more striking counterpoint from 16:48 onward.
6. *Andante, E-flat major -- 18:52. Note how carefully Lugansky parses the minor voices in an already contrapuntally dense prelude. E.g.: 20:15.
7. *Allegro, C minor -- 22:04. One of Rachmaninoff's best. Lugansky produces some stunning bell-like sounds [22:28] and dynamic changes [23:27].
8. Allegro vivace, A-flat major -- 24:28
9. Presto, E-flat minor -- 27:41
10: *Largo, G-flat major -- 29:27 This neglected prelude features some of Rachmanioff's starkest and most beautiful counterpoint [31:35++] played with impeccable clarity, with some lovely harmonic turns and arpeggiation thrown into the mix [see e.g., 32:36++.]
RachmaninoffRachmaninovLugansky

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