Mozart: D Minor Piano Concerto (K466), C Major Symphony (K338); Nielsen: Fifth Symphony

10.03.09
Radu Lupu
Musical Criticism (UK)

By Agnes Kory

More than any other performer I have ever heard, at each of his performances pianist Radu Lupu recreates whatever composition he plays. Although, clearly, always in full command of his material, Lupu is forever searching afresh for the multitude of meanings inherent in music. Discipline and humility are also integral to Lupu's performances, which are governed by his innate musicality and immense knowledge.

In Mozart's D minor concerto (No. 20, K466) Lupu's technical approach reminded me that Mozart apparently specified 'cembalo' (harpsichord) and not 'pianoforte' for the solo part. With his light staccato notes, ornamentation, masterly echoes of relevant phrases and clear polyphony between his two hands, Lupu was firmly on authentic ground. On the other hand, his admirable ensemble with the orchestra (which he occasionally 'conducted' with an eye or with a finger of the left hand), his virtuosity in the pearl-like but driven passages and his passionate delivery of Beethoven's cadenzas at the end of the first and third movements were timeless. The reduced London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis provided inspired support.

The concert opened with Mozart's C major symphony (No. 34, K338). Sir Colin's account was elegant and the orchestra was solid. However, I was slightly distracted by their leader’s animated (and possibly unnecessary) movements – he almost jumps off his chair in ascending and crescendo passages – and the ensemble between first and second violins was a touch untidy in the ornamented opening of the second movement. The customary third movement (composed separately and catalogued as K409) was omitted but the spirited rendering of the last movement (Allegro vivace) made up for it.

The second half of the concert consisted of Nielsen's fifth symphony. Composed in 1920-22, it is a virtuoso show piece for a large symphony orchestra – in particular, for their first percussion player. The two-movement composition, which subdivides into further units, lasts almost 40 minutes. It demonstrates every dynamic range from the hardly audible to the extremely loud and presents a wide range of tone colours. Each section of the orchestra has opportunities to shine, but the relentless side-drum solo throughout the first movement (presented with courage and admirable skill by Neil Percy) and the beautiful cadenza-like clarinet solo (played superbly by Andrew Marriner) at the end of the same movement are possibly the most memorable moments. Sir Colin Davis excelled in a fully committed and exciting performance.