The 2nd Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms is a work of epic stature – even if he himself referred to it as “a tiny little piano concerto”... it is known among pianists as ‘the long terror’, a highly demanding marathon.
Not a problem for Nikolai Lugansky: after having won a number of prestigious prizes, the pianist gained an iron-clad reputation in the Russian repertoire. We now know better, and it has become clear that Lugansky’s magic and mastery thrives on a much broader palette: “The most important experiences in music are not linked to a language or country, but with associations such as the universe, passion, God and peace.”
Nikolai Lugansky is Artist-in-residence at Flagey this season.
The work caused Brahms many a headache, because after a first piano concerto, in 1858, which had a cool reception, it took him more than twenty years to get up his courage to write a second. In 1881, he considered the time was ripe: Brahms was at the height of his career and was one of the few composers who could make a living solely from publishing his music. And he wrote: “Despite everything, the first concerto will still please people, and the second one is to sound rather different”.
His prediction came true. The first concerto ultimately made its way to the concert hall, and the second feels much more self-assured and mature. At the height of his career, Brahms achieved for the first time the perfect mix of inspiration and technique – at last, he felt that he was a fully fledged composer.
An extensive and personal interview with Nikolai Lugansky.watch the interview
Stephen Johnson analyses the music and the background to the music of Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Jonathan Schiffman with piano soloist Martin Roscoe.watch the bbc broadcast
A podcast about the paradoxical relationship between the piano and orchestra in the opening movement of Brahms' 2nd piano concerto.listen to the podcast