Preview: 'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Lugansky, Various venues around the UK

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The Independent Culture

Star pianists are always coming out of Russia, and they don't burn out. Nikolai Lugansky, at 35, still has the coltish manner and electrifying musical presence he had when he first hit these shores after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and he can still turn unusual tricks.

His recent concert at the South Bank was a case in point. Ravel's piano concerto for the left hand is daunting, but Lugansky created something enchanting: he produced fire and thunder, blended with the fugitive delicacy of Ondine.

The reviews were excellent, but he didn't see them: "In English-speaking countries, I rarely read anything good about myself, so I've stopped looking at the papers," he says.

I first met him 10 years ago, when he was here as a protégé of Mikhail Pletnev. What struck me was his intense patriotism, at a time when Russia seemed to be economically and politically on the skids. He insisted he had no intention of giving up on his country and settling for a comfortable life in the West; he was going to stay in Moscow, and play there for "love and honour" rather than money. Ten years on, he's kept the faith.

His pantheon remains the same: Gilels, Richter and Michelangeli among the departed, and Radu Lupu, Nelson Freire, Martha Argerich and Grigory Sokolov among the living. "I listen to these pianists for enjoyment – I don't imitate them."

The pianist he does wish to emulate is his former teacher Tatiana Nikolaeva. "She taught me that in music love is essential. She could play a phrase, and the way she did it spoke volumes, though you couldn't explain how she did it."

He's not recording at present, because his label Warners has shut up shop, and he happily denies any longer-term plans. "I never did have any. I just love music, and I love to play."

The Sage, Gateshead (0191-443 4661), 24 January; Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161-907 9000), 25 January; Symphony Hall, Birmingham (0121-780 3333), 26 January; Barbican, London EC1 (020-7638 8891), 27 January

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