Classical review: RSNO/Alexander Lazarev, Nikolai Lugansky

Nikolai Lugansky. Picture: Marco Borggreve
Nikolai Lugansky. Picture: Marco Borggreve
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It’s hard to think of two more different performers than conductor Alexander Lazarev and pianist Nikolai Lugansky – the first larger-than-life, flamboyant, an unashamed showman; the second intensely focused and controlled, no less passionate, but with his ardour ­distilled through a steely ­precision.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev, Nikolai Lugansky (piano) | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Both were there for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s all-Russian evening – Lazarev, the orchestra’s last but one principal conductor, invited back as part of its 125th anniversary celebrations, and Lugansky to offer the latest instalment of his ongoing Prokofiev piano concerto cycle with the RSNO.

The Concerto in question was No 4, for the left hand alone, already a idiosyncratic and slightly awkward piece. Did the two men’s contrasting personalities gel in Prokofiev’s sometimes ungainly music? Well, yes and no. There was a bit of disagreement over tempo at times – Lazarev surging ahead while Lugansky remained more measured – but the pianist’s brittle, strongly projected playing captured Prokofiev’s quirky invention to a tee. Still, while there was much to admire about the partnership, there was a bit less to simply enjoy.

Lazarev was in his element, though, in the concert’s outer works, rushing on stage in his shirt sleeves to throw himself into Rachmaninov’s gypsy-tinged Caprice bohémien, and goading the orchestra into an ­electrifying account with his hyperactive gesticulating that seemed determined to wring every last drop of expression from the music.

He closed with music from Prokofiev’s Cinderella that swaggered with confidence and fizzed with electricity – not least the infernal clicking, whirring timepiece that counts down the seconds to midnight. A remarkable performance.