Magazine article Gramophone

Radu Lupu: Geraint Lewis Appreciates a Fastidious Perfectionist Whose Rare Visits to the Studio and the Concert Hall Excite His International Army of Pianophile Admirers

Magazine article Gramophone

Radu Lupu: Geraint Lewis Appreciates a Fastidious Perfectionist Whose Rare Visits to the Studio and the Concert Hall Excite His International Army of Pianophile Admirers

Article excerpt

Could there be a greater living pianist than Radu Lupu? Even if you factor in the varied claims of Argerich or Ashkenazy, Pires or Pollini and so on, Lupu must surely remain primus inter pares at the very least: a figure who commands universal awe and respect, not only from audiences worldwide but also among his keyboard peers and colleagues. And yet ... as a famously reclusive musician, he can be an enigmatic and frustrating pianist even to his most ardent admirers, both in the concert hall and on disc.

Lupu's very occasional public appearances these days surface suddenly with little warning, in unexpected venues, offering tantalisingly unpredictable programmes, and to which the musical twitchers flock at short notice from many continents--knowing full well that he may then disappear from view again for several years. But they nevertheless live in hope, given that at a mere 68 the pianist is still in his prime. His fans on disc, however, are less sanguine. A few years ago his loyal label, Decca, issued two complementary sets of the 'complete' solo and concerto recordings, together with a final-sounding statement that Lupu would never record commercially again. And the last of these discs--of Schumann's Kreisleriana was in fact made as long ago as 1993! So that would seem to be that ...

Having already won the Van Cliburn Competition in 1966, Lupu was catapulted to global fame and acclaim when at 23 he came first in the 1969 Leeds International Competiton in succession to Michael Roll (1963) and Rafael Orozco (1966). I first saw Lupu perform live in 1971, when he and Orozco teamed up for a broadcast of Mozart's Two-Piano Concerto, K365, from Llandaff Cathedral. Lupu's innate command of the keyboard and unique sense of 'touch' still ring in my memory, together with his remarkable modesty of demeanour. He was later to choose his own like-minded successor at Leeds in 1972 --Murray Perahia--for heart-melting recordings of Mozart and Schubert duets and concertos, luckily still available on two priceless Sony discs.

For the 1969 Leeds final, Lupu chose to play Beethoven's Third Concerto and his debut concerto disc for Decca, made a year later, captures something of the sheer charisma and musical depth which led Sir Clifford Curzon, as a judge, to utter 'Thanks be to God that I heard that performance'. We can all say amen to that when hearing this Kingsway Hall recording with the LSO, now issued for the first time on CD in both of Decca's box-sets, as a valuable supplement to the later complete Beethoven cycle with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. It soon became apparent that if he was indeed the quintessential pianist's pianist, Lupu was also very much a 'musician's pianist', eschewing any flamboyance of manner or personal showmanship in favour of a single-minded devotion to the music at hand, which he communicated with rare purity of purpose coupled to the most intense insight.

Seated low on a straight-backed chair instead of the usual piano stool, Lupu not only seems somehow closer to the instrument but to be in literal communion with it and his chosen composer of the moment. These favoured few are a sovereign bunch--Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms are the only composers captured on disc in solo or chamber context, and the same list (minus Schubert of course) features for concertos too, with the addition of Grieg's--an early party piece. …

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