April 7, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 14
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Wednesday, Dec 02, 2020



by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Vadim Repin is a superb violinist, and his performance in recital with pianist Nikolai Lugansky was first-rate. His playing is musical, passionate, and most impressive. But, just as people have different tastes in singers voices, so do I prefer a fatter violin tone than Repins. Especially in the first half of the program, I found his high notes a little unpleasant. Perhaps this was appropriate in the Bartok, but out of place, I felt, in the Schubert. Perhaps he took a while to gage the halls acoustics, for his sound was almost lush by the time of the final work.

What made the evening for me and my guest was the playing of Nikolai Lugansky. I had heard him at Meany Hall and felt at the time that I had never heard a bigger tone out of any piano. (This was very different from the loud banging of Van Cliburn!) That huge tone was again evident in spades in his work with Repin. He is also one of todays greatest technicians, making the most difficult passages (those soft, sustained trills at the beginning of the Schubert, for instance) seem easy. He and Repin were totally in synch the whole evening. My only criticism was that Repins smaller tone was sometimes swamped by the piano.

Great pianists do not always have long fingers. Rudolf Serkins were quite short, and Josef Hofmanns were so short he had a special keyboard built to accommodate them. Lugansky however has such long fingers that his position of keeping the hands hovering just above the keyboard kept reminding me of my favorite spider, Shelob.

The evening began with Bela Bartoks Rhapsodie for Violin and Piano No. 1. Having as a teenager thought that Bartok was a lot of unpleasant noise, I now find many of his works of the highest caliber and uniquely satisfying. I would count this work as one of those. Influenced by folk music of eastern Europe, it swims in seductive rhythms and playful harmonies. Repin and Lugansky played it with appropriate percussiveness and ironic lyricism.

The Schubert Fantasia in C major is one of the technically most difficult in the repertoire. It begins with an almost bizarre Andante that seems straight out of a salon. Many a pianist has failed to make it work properly. Under Luganskys fingers, it was all sweetness and light. Repins tone warmed up a little but still seemed thin and under-powered in the louder passages, where the piano did indeed cover his sound. In all other regards, the pairing of these artists could not have been more felicitous.

After intermission, the recital went to new heights. Arvo Parts music leans to the minimalist approach. It is always engaging and atmospheric. His Fratres was almost the highlight of the evening. Our duo showed here, as throughout the evening, that they were masters of many styles. Their effect was mesmerizing as they explored a musical world totally unlike what had preceded.

Finally, the great Sonata in A major by Cesar Frank. Repin expanded his tone to a much warmer timbre that filled Benaroya Hall better than it had all evening. The bigger sound suited this work, for it is full of lush lyricism and grand crescendos. The many technical challenges were no problem to these fine artists. My only objection was to the race-horse tempo in the last movement, quite unlike any I have ever heard. It detracted from the lovely melodies, which seemed athletic instead of gorgeous.

It may be heresy to say, but I was so engaged by Luganskys playing that Repins gifts were a bit wasted on me. I would like to have seen the recital a second time, the better to focus on the violins part. I can hear a cynical friend saying to me, Oh, you loved Luganskys part because he is so sexy. To be sure, it doesnt hurt when an artist adds the element of physical beauty to the works, but Luganskys talents are far more than skin deep! One can hope to see him again in solo recital in the Presidents Piano Series at the UW.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at

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