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Lugansky Piano Sonatas


Nikolai Lugansky
Piano Sonatas 7, 14 “Moonlight”, 22, 23 “Appassionata”

2564 62300-2


Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827     

    Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, op. 57 "Appassionata"     
    fa mineur – f-Moll  

01.   I - Allegro assai - Piu allegro   (11:03)   
02.   II - Andante con moto   (6:38)   
03.   III - Allegro ma non troppo - Presto   (8:15)   

    Piano Sonata No.14 in C sharp minor, op. 27 no. 2 "Moonlight"     
   (Sonata quasi una fantasia)     
   ut diese mineur "Clair de lune" – cis-Moll "Mondschein" 

04.   I - Adagio sostenuto   (5:50)   
05.   II - Allegretto   (2:17)   
06.   III - Presto agitato   (7:48)   

    Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, op. 54     
   fa majeur – F-Dur  

07.   I - In tempo d'un Menuetto   (6:04)   
08.   II - Allegretto - Piu allegro   (5:40)   

    Piano Sonata No.7 in D major, op. 10 no. 3     
   re majeur – D-Dur 

09.   I - Presto   (6:57)   
10.   II - Largo e mesto   (10:03)   
11.   III - Menuetto: Allegro   (2:56)   
12.   IV - Rondo: Allegro   (3:57)   

    Nikolai Lugansky – piano


Piano Sonatas in D major, op. 10 no. 3; "Moonlight"; F major, op. 54 and "Appassionata"

Within a few years of his move to Vienna in 1792, the fiery young sansculotte from provincial Bonn had become the darling of Viennese salons, feted by aristocratic connoisseurs for both his playing and his brilliant, daring keyboard compositions. Some of Beethoven's early works - say, the first two piano concertos or the Quintet for piano and wind, op.16 - pay gracious homage to his idol Mozart. Elsewhere, as in the C minor Piano Trio from Op. l and many of the early piano sonatas, a new sense of dialectical urgency goes hand in hand with a subversive vehemence. The D major Sonata, op. 10 no. 3, combines this fierce rhythmic energy with, in its slow movement, a long-breathed expansiveness that foreshadows many of Beethoven's middle-period works.

Beethoven worked on the three Op. 10 sonatas during 1797and 1798 and dedicated them to the wife of Count Johann Georg von Browne, one of Beethoven's most generous patrons, whom he once termed "the first Maecenas of my muse". The first two sonatas of the set, in C minor and F major, are concise, three movement works; and the F major, in particular, reminds us that Beethoven had studied with Haydn a few years earlier. Indeed its mock-fugal finale, if transcribed for strings, could almost pass muster as the finale of a Haydn quartet.

With the D major Sonata, in four movements, comes a shift of scale and ambition. The combustible opening Presto lays out an uncomplicated opening theme - essentially merely a descending and ascending scale - which, fragmented and occasionally inverted, forms the basis of much of the movement's dialogue and provokes exciting shifts of key in the central development section. The sonata's centre of gravity lies in the second movement, a deep-toned D minor Largo e mesto of profound tragic eloquence. In its plangent, whispered phrases, anguished outbursts, diminished harmonies and dramatic silences it has much in common with the famous slow movement of the "Ghost" Piano Trio, op. 70 no. l, of 1808, likewise in D minor. The fragmentation of the main theme in the coda also prefigures the disintegration at the end of the "Eroica" Symphony's funeral march.

The lyrical, whimsical Menuetto and, even more, the rumbustious Trio, break the spell and pave the way for the final Rondo. This is one of Beethoven's most explosively humorous movements, full of sly harmonic twists and saturated by its teasing three-note opening figure, right through to the furtive pianissimo close.

Dating from 1801, three years after the publication of the Op. 10 sonatas, the so-called "Moonlight" is one of a pair of works that Beethoven designated "sonata quasi una fantasia" - doubtless to preempt conservative criticism of the sonatas' unusual design. To its unconventional sequence of movements, the C sharp minor Sonata adds an outre key that Haydn had only used once, Mozart never, and that Beethoven was to return to only at the end of his life, in the Op. 131 String Quartet. The composer dedicated the sonata to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom he was hopelessly in love at the time; and while biographical interpretations of Beethoven's music are always risky, it is perhaps not too far-fetched to hear, as many commentators have done, the first movement as a reflection of his sorrow at Giulietta's unattainability (she married a nobleman shortly afterwards).

Several years after Beethoven's death this veiled, nocturne-like opening Adagio, distantly evoking both a mournful chant and a funeral march, suggested to the poet Ludwig Rellstab "a boat visiting, by moonlight, the primitive landscapes of Lake Lucerne”. The nickname "Moonlight" has stuck ever since, though to Berlioz's equally pictorial imagination the music evoked "the sun setting over the Roman countryside. All is profoundly sad, calm, majestic, solemn." Beethoven follows this, perhaps the most celebrated movement he ever wrote, with a delicate, wistful Allegretto in C sharp major, written for the player's convenience in D flat. Liszt memorably described this intermezzo, neither quite a minuet nor quite a scherzo, as "une fleur entre deux abimes" (a flower between two abysses). The second "abyss" is Beethoven's most violent stormscape to date. Like the opening Adagio, this Presto agitato finale, the only movement of the three in full sonata form, is saturated almost throughout by the minor mode. Beyond this, it confirms Beethoven's concern to unify a whole work by dynamically reinterpreting much of the Adagio's thematic material, most obviously its pervasive arpeggio textures and its repeated G sharps, softly tolling in the Adagio, now frenziedly percussive.

In the years immediately following the "Moonlight" came the trauma of Beethoven's encroaching deafness, the new artistic credo expounded in the "Heiligenstadt Testament" and the watershed of the "Eroica" Symphony. Of the three sonatas of l804, two - the "Waldstein" and ''Appassionata'' - are among the towering peaks of the repertoire. At first glance the F major might seem a throwback to an earlier manner. But in its outwardly unassuming way, this two-movement sonata - "ten minutes of his most Socratic humour”, to quote Donald Tovey - is among Beethoven's most original.

Like the first movement of his final quartet, Op. l35, in the same key, the opening In tempo d'un menuetto uses decorous Classical gestures to oddly un-Classical ends. For a start, the theme - essentially a repeated cadential figure - cannot decide on the right octave. And before long it is interrupted by an aggressive, widely modulating episode in staccato triplets which serves as a Trio. The minuet theme makes two reappearances, each whimsically embellished, separated by a compressed reprise of the Trio; and the movement ends with a mysterious coda that draws together the Trio's triplets and the dotted rhythm of the main theme. The finale, like that of the "Appassionata”, keeps up an unremitting, toccata-like semiquaver motion, spiced by frequent offbeat accents. But its mood of humorous detachment could hardly be more different. Few Beethoven movements are as unconventional in their proportions, with the tiny exposition dwarfed by a vast development; and none traverses such a wide range of keys with such inscrutable nonchalance.

Both the other sonatas of 1804 share something of the "Eroica" Symphony's expansion of scale and ethically charged sense of heroic struggle. But whereas the "Waldstein”, like the symphony, is essentially triumphant, the ''Appassionata'' is the grimmest tragedy Beethoven ever wrote. The nickname, coined by the Hamburg publisher Cranz in 1838, is far more appropriate to the work as a whole than was Moonlight to the C sharp minor Sonata. According to Czerny it remained, with the F sharp major, op. 78, Beethoven's favourite among his sonatas until the mighty "Hammerklavier" of 1818.

The Viennese piano developed rapidly in weight, range and string tension during the first years of the nineteenth century, not least due to the demands of Beethoven's own sonatas. And the deep, stark opening of the ''Appassionata'' - another highly original sonority, with the hands spaced two octaves apart - would hardly have been conceivable without the clear, strong bass notes of the new six-octave instruments. The seeds of the whole vast movement are sown in the opening twenty bars: the powerful rhythm of the opening (which fertilises the sonorous, ardently lyrical second theme in A flat); the theme's immediate restatement in the tense "Neapolitan" key of G flat (a tension that will also be exploited in the finale); a four-note drumming rhythm in the bass (akin to the Fifth Symphony's "fate" motif); and explosive dynamic contrasts, exceptionally violent even by Beethoven's standards. When the main theme returns in the recapitulation it is made still more unstable by an ominously pounding dominant pedal deep in the bass. The coda ratchets the music up to a new pitch of excruciating intensity before dying away ppp - a final instance of the movement's penchant for dynamic extremes.

The Andante con moto in D flat, if not quite "a flower between two abysses”, represents a point of repose between the apocalyptic drama of the first movement and the gloomy tumult of the finale. Formally this is a clear-cut theme and variations. After the chorale-like theme, announced in hieratic, trombone sonorities, the first three variations progressively subdivide the beat (first into quavers, then semiquavers, and finally demisemiquavers - an old Baroque technique) and lighten the texture. The final variation restores the theme to its original solemn simplicity, with successive phrases now distributed between tenor and treble registers. But instead of the anticipated final cadence, the music dissolves on to an inconclusive diminished seventh, whereupon the finale bursts in brutally. Like the finale of the "Moonlight" this sonata-form movement, dominated by its implacable moto perpetuo main theme, is coloured almost throughout by the minor mode. Uniquely, Beethoven asks for a repeat of the second part (development and recapitulation) but not the exposition. The effect is to throw added weight on to the coda, which begins as a wild, stomping dance before the mota perpetuo semiquavers hurtle the music to its hectic, pitiless close.

© Richard Wigmore 2005


The son of two Russian scientists, NIKOLAI LUGANSKY showed exceptional musical ability from early childhood. He started formal lessons at the age of five, and later studied with Tatiana Nikolayeva. In 1988 he won silver medal at the Leipzig International Bach Competition, and two years later took Second Prize in the Moscow Rachmaninov Competition; in 1994 he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Lugansky, called "the next one" by Nikolayeva, has already been seen by many as the successor to the great Russian pianistic tradition.

Lugansky's career has taken him all over the world, from Europe and the USA to Brazil and Japan, playing with such orchestras as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the San Francisco Symphony, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Dresden Philharmonic, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kirov Orchestra, and working with Valery Gergiev, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Charles Mackerras, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Leonard Slatkin, Kurt Masur, Marek Janowski, and many other leading conductors. A committed chamber musician, he often appears in recital with the violinist Vadim Repin, among others. He also teaches at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, where he is the assistant to its director, Sergei Dorensky.

Lugansky's first three recordings for Warner Classics were all awarded the Diapason d'Or: Chopin's Etudes, Rachmaninov's Preludes (of which Le Monde de la Musique said, "Rachmaninov's vision has rarely been so sumptuous"), and Chopin's Preludes. In 2003 his recording of Rachmaninov's Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 with the CBSO and Sakari Oramo was awarded a CHOC du Monde de la Musique.

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