Lupu's piano leads the TSO to stir souls

02.13.09
Radu Lupu
Toronto Star

We don't need any more than good music performed well. But the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and its Romanian-born guest pianist Radu Lupu took us well beyond the simple pleasures of life last night at Roy Thomson Hall.

The first bonus is the program itself, which pairs up Ludwig van Beethoven's 206-year-old Piano Concerto No. 3 with Sergei Rachmaninoff's 1940 Symphonic Dances. The first represents one of the first major stirrings of "soul" in classical music, at the dawn of Romanticism. The second represents the twilight of the soul - one that won't go peacefully into that good night.

Then there were the performances, led by music director Peter Oundjian. Lupu is, at 63, one of the world's gold-standard pianists. With his halo of puffy grey hair and full beard, he looks like a sage out of the pages of the Russian classics. But instead of verbal wisdom, he offered an intensely engaged, fabulously nuanced and supremely elegant reading of the Beethoven classic, with the orchestra matching his every deeply thought and felt move.

With soul stirred by such a great performance, Rachmaninoff's dramatic and colourful dances spoke more eloquently than usual of someone who was lamenting his vanished world at the height of World War II. Igor Stravinsky's 1908 Scherzo fantastique opened the program, but it was more a focusing exercise than anything else.

Don't miss the main event.