Very Fine Liszt From Andrey Gugnin

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Andrey Gugnin has been on critics’ “young pianists to watch” radar since winning first prize in the 2014 Gina Bachauer and 2016 Sydney International Competitions. He appears to be an ambitious virtuoso who aims high; after all, why should one record Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes in face of an increasingly expanding and competitive catalog packed with worthy contenders? He certainly has the prerequisite world-class technique and sense of style to bring off such a project.

The first etude’s arpeggios and flourishes whiz by with confident, colorful sweep in Gugnin’s hands. Although his picking out inner voices and micromanaged soft playing in No. 2 borders on mannerism, the playing is relatively straightforward next to Boris Giltburg’s fussy and contrived conception, among recent recordings. While Mazeppa often sounds clattery and brittle in the wrong hands, the music emerges close to a symphonic poem via Gugnin’s full-bodied sonority and textural control. If Gugnin’s Feux follets doesn’t quite match the incisive gold standard of Richter, Ashkenazy, or Nojima, his effortlessly supple double-note technique will keep many pianists humble.

The impact of Eroica’s chordal climaxes and lyrical transitions particularly impresses in light of Gugnin’s discreet use of the sustain pedal, and one can say the same for the F minor No. 10 Etude. Gugnin generates tension in Wilde Jagd’s dotted rhythms by scaling down Liszt’s dynamics, an unorthodox gambit that took a while to win me over (I prefer the red-blooded fearlessness of the Arrau and Thibaudet recordings). His ritards at phrase ends throughout Harmonies du soir, however, become increasingly predictable and contribute to the performance’s longer than usual duration. In this regard I prefer Nelson Freire’s headlong flexibility. Gugnin compensates with some of the most meaningfully varied tremolo effects I’ve ever heard in Chasse-neige. In all, a very fine achievement, and one that makes me curious to hear more of Gugnin’s Liszt.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Laszlo Simon (BIS); Claudio Arrau (Philips)

  • Andrey Gugnin (piano)

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