THERE’S a surprise in the Hallé Thursday concert series on March 5 – the orchestra giving the concert is not the Hallé.
It’s not unheard of, but it’s rare, and the result of the Hallé Orchestra being away on tour, usually. This time the guest orchestra is the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. They’re conducted by their justly celebrated chief conductor, Vasily Petrenko.
It’s an all-Russian programme, too: Rimsky-Korsakov’s overture, The Tsar’s Bride, begins it, and Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony is last.
There’s more Tchaikovsky in between – the second piano concerto. This isn’t as well known as the first, but could hardly have a better advocate – one of the leading Russian pianists today, Nikolai Lugansky.
The 42-year-old has been compared with Rachmaninov for the brilliance and poetry of his playing, and has earned a string of awards for his recordings – as well as the UK’s own Terence Judd Award back in 1995 – and his performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto at 2013’s Proms was hailed as ‘classical yet thrillingly virtuosic’ and ‘breathtakingly no-nonsense’.
He was recently on a UK tour with the St Petersburg Philharmonic, but we missed seeing him then. Now, thanks to the RLPO, is Manchester’s opportunity.
When I spoke to him he emphasized the quality of that Russian tradition he is heir to. He may be one of the last to come through the hot-house system of schooling talent which was part of the Soviet era.
“From the age of five-and-a-half, when I first got a toy piano, it was natural for me to play. My parents gave me a book of Beethoven sonatas when I was six, and I tried to play some at a neighbour’s house, where they had an upright piano.
“When I was six or seven, we got one ourselves. One summer we went to see an elderly teacher who heard me try to play my Beethoven, and he started to give me lessons.”
Soon afterwards he joined Moscow’s Central Music School, and 11 years later the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included the legendary Tatiana Nikolayeva.
He knows that some would say the real ‘Russian’ characteristic of pianism is a singing tone – a quality often observed in his own playing – but he’s aware that others would say it’s also about ‘sportsmen who play loud, quickly, and all the right notes!’
That (apart from all the right notes) you may be sure is not the Lugansky way.