Lupu, SLSO in fine finale to Beethoven fest

Radu Lupu
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Sarah Bryan Miller

Pianist Radu Lupu may be as close to being the embodiment of pure music as one can get.

Many pianists make the visual aspects of their playing an integral part of the performance, from adjusting the bench to hair-tossing, swooping over the keyboard as they interpret the music. Sometimes when you close your eyes the impression of great artistry lingers; sometimes it doesn’t quite add up without the visual cues. 

Lupu came onstage quietly at Powell Symphony Hall on Friday night and seated himself in a regular black orchestra chair in front of the Steinway. He sat back, arms crossed, watching and listening as music director David Robertson led the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in the first bars of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor. When the time came, he reached out to the keyboard, played his part, and then leaned back again.

It was all quite histrionic-free, and it was all utterly mesmerizing. The emotional content was to be found entirely in the music. Lupu’s playing is simply sublime: intelligent, authoritative and innately felt. No wonder he doesn’t give interviews; he doesn’t need to. His music-making says it all.

Robertson and the orchestra were in the zone with him, as colleagues and as support, for a richly satisfying performance. It represented the SLSO at its best, from the utterly-together string section to the solo step-outs by the principal players.

This was the second and final weekend of the orchestra’s Beethoven mini-festival. The concert’s second half was a well-shaped, well-considered reading of the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, the “Eroica.”

Composed in 1803, this work is the generally acknowledged bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras in music, and as one of Beethoven’s greatest works. Robertson gave it a well-shaped, well-considered reading that allowed for both Classical forms and Romantic passions. The orchestra followed him along every curve in the road like a well-engineered, well-tuned sports car.

Particularly notable was the playing of the horn trio — principal Roger Kaza, acting principal Tod Bowermaster and Gregory Roosa — in their big section in the Scherzo movement. This was truly virtuosic playing, rich, exact and balanced....

The concert opened with a relatively minor piece, the Overture to “King Stephen,” written as incidental music to an even more minor play. It got a solid account from Robertson and the players.