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Janácek: In the Mist; Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’; Schubert: Sonata No. 20 in A major D959

10.05.09
Radu Lupu
Musical Criticism (UK)

By Agnes Kory

The large Concert Hall of the Brighton Dome may not be the most suitable setting for an intimate piano recital but Radu Lupu – probably the most intimate performer among concert artists of our time – succeeded in establishing the magic of intimacy at his astonishing recital.

There was semi-darkness in the hall. As Lupu – dressed in black – sat at the black piano, visual elements were negligible and we entered the world of pure sounds.

The countryside was evident in the four-movement Janácek piece. Folk-music influence is never far from Janácek and Radu Lupu seemed to identify with this aspect. He sounded as if he was improvising the beautiful folksong-like melodies. Lupu's contrasts of dynamics were fascinating; his amazing pianissimo on conclusion of the first movement was breath-taking. At the same time, Lupu was a one-man band; his orchestral left hand leading the melodies of the right hand.

I think this is the first time that I saw the Appassionata performed by an almost motionless artist. Lupu's music comes from his soul and it is transferred to the piano as if it was not a percussive instrument. Of course, Lupu's arms and fingers move but otherwise he sits firmly on his chair and keeps focused with all his being on creating the music. Lupu's tempo for the Appassionata first movement was broad, allowing space for the important and here often magical semiquaver passages as well as for the dramatic sforzando accents. The slow movement was both dignified and rhythmically sharply defined; the variations on the opening theme were organic and inspired. As in the Janácek piece, Lupu's two hands often created entirely different worlds of sound. The last movement was gentler than performed by many other pianists: the texture, therefore, was clearer and, ironically, more passionate.

In Lupu's hands, Schubert's great A major sonata seemed as if it was composed in our presence. We witnessed creation at its most sublime. The hymn of the first movement was noble and spiritual, the slow movement intimate as well as passionate, the third movement playful and light, the fourth movement radiated joy as well as other emotions. With his nuances in tempi as well as with his astonishing shades of colour, Lupu led us into a musical world which was unique.

To be sure to catch my train back to London, I rushed out of the hall after the last note of the Schubert sonata. But reliable sources inform me that the enthusiastic audience demanded an encore and Lupu obliged with an affectionate account of Brahms' Intermezzo in E flat.

Lupu repeats the programme on 9th May in Oxford.