Nikita Lukinov

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

When a line in his biography boasts of a recital last year that raised £5000 for Ukraine, it is safe to speculate that Russian pianist Nikita Lukinov has no immediate plans to return to the land of his birth. Since his early teens he has been based in the UK, and since 2017 has been at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he is now in the midst of post-graduate studies and teaching in the piano department.

He is dizzyingly busy as a performer as well, with upcoming repertoire including a Beethoven concerto, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Astor Piazolla. For Live Music Now’s Emerging Artist series on a Monday morning at the Usher Hall he chose some classic 19th century repertoire by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Liszt, and attracted an impressive crowd to the organ gallery seating for the recital.

At the centre of his programme was the epic B Minor Sonata by Liszt, dedicated to Robert Schumann and dismissed as a terrible composition by his wife Clara. Later championed by Wagner, it has become a rite-of-passage showpiece for ambitious young players and a competition favourite, although its subject matter – if indeed it has one at all – is still the subject of debate.

Lukinov used the pandemic to learn the piece and has the arc of its half-hour span shaped beautifully. Although he is superb at the work’s ominous rumblings and lightning-fingered pyrotechnics, it was actually the slower, more meditative, central section that impressed the most. Here was real depth of feeling, less often encountered in younger players, however skilful.

Perhaps to focus our attention on that, he preceded it with Meditation, the fifth of the 18 Opus 72 piano pieces that Tchaikovsky wrote at the very end of his life, dedicated to teacher and conductor Vasily Safonov, who would champion the Pathetique Symphony after the composer’s death.

The Chopin Etude that concluded Lukinov’s recital was also linked to the Liszt, most obviously in its sound, as the pianist said in his introduction, but also in its dedicatee. Chopin’s mature Etudes, the Opus 25 set, are dedicated to the Comtesse d’Agoult, who was Liszt’s mistress and the mother of his children, including Cosima, who would become Richard Wagner’s wife.

What made the piece an apt choice to finish is the way it points towards the music of the century to come, in a way that the later Tchaikovsky arguably does not. A very thoughtful programme from a highly-talented player.

Keith Bruce