Listen to two tracks from Nikolai Lugansky's new Rachmaninov album
‘They’re not my bars, they’re Rachmaninov’s,’ retorts Nikolai Lugansky when the producer asks him about an extra four-bar passage that seems to have appeared in the finale of Rachmaninov’s First Sonata. We’re at Potton Hall in Suffolk for the recording sessions of Lugansky’s new Naïve coupling of the First and Second Sonatas. Nicolas Bartholomée, founder and president of the French sound-engineering firm Little Tribeca, is at the control desk; Lugansky is just emerging from the studio, looking slightly dejected and asserting that he wants to achieve a more ‘catastrophical’ crescendo in the portion of the finale that he’s just been playing. This is all part of Lugansky’s quest for perfection – perfection not just in negotiating the notes but in getting to the expressive nub of the music and in responding to the spontaneity and interpretative imagination it can ignite. In the next take, the crescendo is exactly what Lugansky was aiming for.
Lugansky is recording the huge, physically demanding First Sonata for the first time. He made a disc of the Second Sonata 20 years ago, in the shorter, revised version of 1931. But now he has opted for the original score of 1913, with some amendments that reveal a thoughtful, thorough approach akin to the one that has led to the insertion of those four bars in the First Sonata’s finale. It is well known that Rachmaninov made cuts to the First Sonata before its publication in 1908, and in this instance Lugansky feels that a discrepancy between the exposition and the recapitulation needs to be rectified. The passage in question is the meno mosso section (marked molto risoluto in the exposition) where the Dies irae is firmly defined in dotted notes. In the exposition it forms a 10-bar diminuendo before the next leggiero section; in the recapitulation it is only six bars long, but Lugansky has decided to balance things out by borrowing and transposing the missing four-bar fragment. You can hear the effect at 01’ 38” and 08’ 03” in the track streamed below.