Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, ‘Emperor’; Brahms: Symphony No. 1 LPO, Lupu/Saraste

Radu Lupu

By Agnes Kory

Even in grand concertos like Beethoven's Emperor (Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat), first and foremost Radu Lupu plays chamber music. His performance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was a master class in ensemble playing for soloist and symphony orchestra.

The secret is Lupu's intimate knowledge of the whole, which, of course includes the orchestra parts. At times Lupu physically – that is, with his head or rarely with his left hand – indicated important meeting points, especially when the orchestra was to join a piano solo passage. In reverse situations Lupu seemed to be living the orchestra parts and joined them organically as if he was playing those orchestral instruments. Although Lupu had a good partner in conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, it was of note that the occasional untidy joints occurred when the orchestra entered after a solo piano passage. I hasten to add, that the orchestra’s wind soloists adjusted well to the musical dialogues between solo piano and wind.

Lupu's attention to details was fascinating as well as educational. When Beethoven marks staccato, Lupu indeed recreated the staccato sound of the fortepiano (for which Beethoven composed). The fortissimo sections too reminded of the capabilities of the earlier instrument, although in other pianists' hands the temptation to beat the pulp out of the grand piano of the Royal Festival Hall far too often proves irresistible. Lupu conveyed the improvisatory aspects of the numerous semiquaver solo passages with utmost beauty and the lyrical passages sounded heavenly. This was interpretation at its noblest.

Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste clearly knows Brahms' first symphony, but thankfully so does the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Saraste conducted from memory but his movements seemed to have to do more with choreography of his feelings than with precise directions of the orchestra. Some of the orchestral entries were not together, but thanks to Pieter Schoeman – the orchestra's ever reliable leader – and Saraste's well judged tempi and his other musical ideas, Brahms' symphony triumphed.