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Radu Lupu at Shriver Hall

There was a rare sighting of Radu Lupu at Shriver Hall on Sunday evening. The elusive Romanian pianist had not been there in three decades, and his last concert in the area was at the NIH a decade ago (he canceled on the BSO at the last minute in 2005, and Jens last reviewed him, with Mitsuko Uchida and the New York Philharmonic, in 2007). With the 60-something Lupu's crown of hair now whitened and his bushy gray beard, one could easily mistake his profile at the piano for that of the older Johannes Brahms. Seated fully on his trademarked high-backed office chair, with his eyes often closed, Lupu alternately caressed and walloped the keyboard in a recital that was extraordinary for its interpretative long shots more than for the surmounting of technical challenges.

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Radu Lupu Plays Schubert

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Beethoven Concertos, Sonatas

Opening with three Beethoven sonatas played to Lupu's past strengths, although the pair of op. 14 sonatas, hardly considered among the most difficult of the Beethoven cycle, as they were intended for the Baroness von Braun to play rather than the composer. That said, they were the best part of the first half, suited to Lupu's enigmatic approach, with a gentle, almost lost first movement in no. 9, an extremely slow middle movement, and a last movement that seemed overly fast for Allegro comodo. All in all, Lupu made something mysterious out of what is on the page just a light little sonata. That he actually skipped a small section at the end of the third movement (measures 108-21), an omission that is hardly noticeable because measures 108 and 121 are almost identical, is probably due to the fact that he relies more on his memory than the score. No. 10 was pushed to the edge of Lupu's speed, the murmurando performance of the first movement making a blur of the 32nd notes, very fast but also ultra-light. A similar approach made the last movement an understated but impish romp.

The least pleasing Beethoven was the most familiar, the "Pathétique" (op. 13, C minor), the least technically polished (the hand crossings in the first movement, the triplets in the third) and with the fast sections not as propulsive. It was certainly good but not the revelatory performance one wants to hear from Lupu (compared to my current favorite Beethoven set, by Paul Lewis, for example). The second movement was sumptuous and slow, although here, too, Lupu has recomposed the score in his memory, adding a section of music before the A-flat minor section at measure 37.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Radu Lupu offers stunning recital at Shriver Hall (Clef Notes, February 9)

Lawrence A. Johnson, A remarkable Schubert journey with Radu Lupu (South Florida Classical Review, February 3)

Vivien Schweitzer, A Swirling Symphony From the Vault (New York Times, January 30)
Thanks to a friend's suggestion, we heard the second half -- Schubert's B-flat sonata (D. 960) -- from the balcony, where the sound from the piano goes much more directly and clearly to the ear than on the floor. After spending some time listening to Artur Schnabel's recording of this sonata, Lupu's performance seemed extraordinarily delicate, the rumbling bass trills like whispers, the voicings crystalline. The slow movement was so slow, so serene, that breathing seemed to suspend itself, a mood that lifted briefly in the playful third movement, where the downbeats hesitated, a wrong-footed quality that continued in the trio with the off-beat bass emphasized just a bit. It would have been hard to top Alfred Brendel's last performance of this sonata, at his farewell recital last year, but this was a memorable performance, capped by a guileless rendition of Schubert's G-flat impromptu (op. 90, no. 3, D. 899).

The next concert at Shriver Hall will feature the Brentano Quartet with pianist Peter Serkin (March 8, 5:30 pm). The program includes Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon , with baritone Richard Lalli, and a new piano quintet by Charles Wuorinen.


Anonymous said...

I gather (despite your omission of the information) that Schubert's B-flat Sonata (D. 960) was the work on the second half.

Charles T. Downey said...

Indeed. I see what happened -- for purposes of the ending, I moved the sentence that began the final paragraph to the end. It contained the identification of the work in question. Sorry for the unintended obfuscation -- correction forthcoming.