Radu Lupu review – radiant, inward and bewitching

Radu Lupu
The Guardian

Radu Lupu, a rare fixture on the UK concert trail, again proved himself one of the great pianists of our time 

By Turner Sims

There is an impressive number of very fine pianists to enjoy at the moment, but only a handful of genuinely great ones, and Radu Lupu is, unquestionably, one of those. Yet in the UK, opportunities to wonder at Lupu’s very special playing have become increasingly rare over the past two decades, while his ventures into London’s concert halls have been rarer still. But the intimacy of the Turner Sims hall at the University of Southampton clearly appeals to him; this was his third recital there in the past 14 years.

His repertoire has remained very selective, too, and this programme – three sets of variations followed by a sonata – was drawn from four of the composers who are his staples. Yet only the sonata, Schubert’s in G major, D 894, turns up regularly in recitals; the work by Brahms with which Lupu opened, the introspective, almost perversely unshowy Variations on an Original Theme, Op 21 No 1, is quite a collector’s item, while even Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor and Mozart’s Variations on a Minuet by Duport, K573, which followed, don’t crop up as often you might expect.

Lupu found poetry in all of them, even in the brusqueness of Beethoven’s eight-bar chaconne-like theme, and reserved a special moment of lingering wonder for the last slow variation in Mozart’s scheme. But it was the Schubert sonata, presented as a seamless sequence with no movement breaks, that contained the most inward and radiant playing. It was not all luminous reverie – the basic tempo for the first movement was surprisingly businesslike and the scherzo had a rather formal squareness to it, and a scattering of tiny memory lapses sometimes spoilt the effect. But there is no other pianist today who can colour Schubert’s harmonies as bewitchingly as Lupu does, making the closing bars of the sonata’s slow movement seem so radiant, and its bass lines move so eloquently. Such moments were pianistic magic.