Radu Lupu: Sheldonian Theatre

Radu Lupu
Oxford Times (UK)

By Simon Collings

Radu Lupu has been a commanding presence on the concert platform since the late 1960s. His recordings are few as he is uncomfortable in front of a microphone. So an opportunity to hear the maestro perform in Oxford was not to be missed.

Lupu’s trademarks were all in evidence: the straight-backed chair he prefers to a piano bench, the peremptory, almost grudging acknowledgement of the audience, the unkempt hair and beard. Attending a recital is like eavesdropping on a private event, as though Lupu is playing for an imagined circle of appreciative friends rather than the audience that is present. But what feeling when he starts to play. There is no reserve here. All of his concentration is on the music, holding your attention from the first bar. The subtlety of his playing is mesmerising. Lupu’s repertoire is consciously narrow – Schubert is his particular passion. He also plays Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms, plus some Janacek and Debussy. The recital on Friday opened with Janacek’s In the Mists, a musical study of inner anguish and despair. This is music Lupu excels in, rich in colour and mood, austere, intimate.

The second work in the concert was Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 ‘Appassionata’. Here Lupu seemed to emphasise iron determination rather than fiery defiance. The work is full of explosive emotion, yet Lupu appeared often to be holding back, especially in the final movement. The struggle between despair and willpower seemed hard won as a consequence.

But it was in Schubert’s A major Sonata, D959, that Lupu revealed himself most fully as the prodigious talent he undoubtedly is. He seems to find in Schubert a depth of emotion which other pianists have missed. His account of this sonata was utterly convincing. One never felt he was imposing on the music, everything was there in the notes – the sadness, the anxiety, the bitterness. This is Schubert as you rarely hear it played.