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Ever on his game, pianist runs a trick play

02.01.07
Radu Lupu
Fort Worth Star Telegram

Wednesday evening's Cliburn at the Bass concert promised to be the Super Bowl of classical music events this season.

Since winning a gold medal at the 1966 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Romanian pianist Radu Lupu has been regarded as one of the world's most respected concert artists. Known particularly for his commanding interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, the 61-year-old came to Bass Hall with a signature recital program -- plus an interesting twist of Debussy. Unlike most overly hyped Super Bowl games, Lupu's playing didn't disappoint.

A refined technique, dreamlike lyricism and deep interpretative insight tied the program into a musically satisfying whole. Beginning with the Schubert Sonata in A Major (D. 664) Lupu employed a few idiosyncratic touches, particularly an unusually relaxed tempo for the first allegro moderato movement. It's a rare pianist who can pull off such an effect. Or for that matter, make the piano sing so tenderly, as he did in the placid second movement. But Lupu's playing can often feel like a sort of sorcery, his beard and mesmerizing stage presence reinforcing the impression of a musical Merlin.

As with Brahms' Ballades, Op. 10 or the Beethoven Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3, Lupu took little time to pause between movements, as if to almost hasten the music's momentum. The Brahms featured a symphonic attention to texture and emitted a calm inner strength. The Beethoven, on the other hand, generated more than its share of fiery sparks, particularly in the virtuosic outer movements.

Yet the evening's true revelation came in a group of Debussy preludes.

Not known for his interpretations of the French composer, Lupu seemed perfectly at ease with these impressionistic soundscapes. Pieces like Bruyere and General Lavine -- eccentric were keen invitations for kaleidoscopic color.

In the end, you were only disappointed that Lupu didn't play an encore.

GRADE: A