Music review: The RSNO & Nikolai Lugansky

Nikolai Lugansky PIC: Marco Borggreve
Nikolai Lugansky PIC: Marco Borggreve
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This RSNO programme, directed by Norwegian conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen, was a sweeping and gripping expression of the ambiguities facing early 20th century Russian composers.

The RSNO / Eivind Gullberg Jensen ****

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake of 1909, a sweet but innocuous expression of musical contentment, speaks of old Imperial days. Jensen played on its merits, those fairytale frissons of texture that colour in the predominantly bland, self-satisfied orchestral canvas.

Nothing so complacent in pianist Nikolai Lugansky, as he meted out the burlesque irony – surely a musical manifestation of Soviet brutalism – of Prokofiev’s 1930s Piano Concerto No 5. There was stinging barbarity in the Russian’s performance, making those few jewelled glimpses of gentler humanity ones to truly savour.

After the interval, another Prokofiev concerto, this time the bigger-hearted, more openly lustrous, but no less attitudinal Concerto No 1 of 1912. And once again, the engaging directness of Lugansky’s needle-sharp playing imbued its pages with feverish electricity and dazzling, unstoppable momentum.

Hearing both concertos in close proximity gave pause for thought on the progressive mindset of Russian artists in response to unrest, revolution and cultural oppression.

Rachmaninov never returned to Russia after leaving in 1917. His Third Symphony of 1936 is as much an affirmation of his affection for America – the high-calorie Hollywood-style main theme – as the feisty spirit of Russian dance that ignites its finale.

Jensen’s reading was fluid, expressive and effusive, despite his tendency to micromanage. A wholesome summation, though, to a thoughtful programme.