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Rachmaninov composed 27 Preludes for the piano, the earliest, in E-flat minor (1887) and F major (1891) in isolation, the last likewise in D minor thirty years later. The remaining twenty-four were composed in an 18-year period, 1892-1910, one in each of the major and minor keys, split between three opus numbers. This cycle is the basis for Lugansky’s programme here, starting with what Isabelle Rouard’s booklet note terms that ‘hugely famous piece’, the Prelude in C-sharp minor Op 3/2, progressing through the 10 pieces of Opus 23 (1903) – with its not-quite-so famous but still popular Alla marcia in G minor Op 23/5 – and finishing with the Opus 32 set that fills in the tonal gaps. (Given the remit of the album, Rouard’s statement that the C-sharp minor prelude ‘is not included in this recording’ is bizarre.)

Lugansky has previously recorded Op 3/2 and Op 23 for Erato, but this is his first recording of Op 32. Lugansky plays all 24 Preludes as a logical sequence (Op 32 ends with in D-flat, the enharmonic equivalent of Op 3/2, turned to the major). The concept is nothing new – also recorded by Lympany, Ashkenazy and, more recently, Steven Osborne, among others – but is rendered here with compelling conviction.

Some commentators have regarded Lugansky as being a cool or remote interpreter, but I cannot agree. He renders the C-sharp minor with a lowering power that immediately holds the attention. There is power, too, in the G minor Op 23/5 and the intense F minor, Op 32/6. Yet it is invidious to cherry-pick, as the most impressive quality of the disc is the performance of the cycle as a whole. Harmonia Mundi’s sound is first-rate: a disc to treasure.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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