A remarkable Schubert journey with Radu Lupu

By Lawrence A. Johnson

 The trend toward making classical musicians into flamboyant pop celebrities is clearly something that has bypassed Radu Lupu. The acclaimed pianist rarely grants interviews, and his stage demeanor remains all business, the bearded Romanian resembling a stern Biblical patriarch.

 Lupu’s appearance Monday night at Gusman Concert Hall—co-presented by Friends of Chamber Music and UM’s Frost School—was the pianist’s first Miami solo recital in many years, and served to reaffirm his reputation as one of the leading Schubert pianists of our time. Lupu will repeat this program Wednesday night at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach and it is worth the drive to experience this extraordinary musician.

 Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat, D. 960, sounds jarringly modern even today in its expansive canvas, prevailing bleakness and psychological penetration. Written in the last year of Schubert’s short life, it’s hard not to feel a sense of autobiography with the main theme’s progress continually undermined by malign bass trills and harmonic displacement.

 Lupu’s remarkable performance of this vast work Monday night was a virtual seminar in Schubert interpretation: the long journey of the first movement magisterial, with a natural unforced eloquence and a sense of tragic inevitability. 

 In the slow movement, a stark, unsated search for balm, Lupu’s mastery was consistently evident, with time standing still in his sense of spacious unsettled repose, and the feeling that the center cannot hold. The finale, which can often seem lightweight after the previous movements, was here a fitting culmination, Lupu’s explosive minor-key outbursts showing that there is no victory beneath the surface superficialities.

 The pianist’s encore of a Brahms Intermezzo (op.117, No. 1) was a fitting postlude, rendered with infinite tenderness and inward expression.

 The program began wih three sonatas of Beethoven, another composer for whom Lupu is renown.  Some may find Lupu’s Beethoven a bit brusque and old school. There was little sense of “early Beethoven” in the two Op. 14 sonatas, (Nos. 9 and 10), yet Lupu’s straightforward approach also displayed a  supple expression and mercurial spin to bring out the improvisatory qualities of both, with their dynamic jolts and hectic humor.

 As expected the more familiar Pathetique  Sonata was forceful and dramatic, major-minor contrasts emphatically pointed, a regal poise in the spiritual calm of the Adagio, and the frenetic conclusion driven but never over-driven.

 Radu Lupu will repeat this program Wednesday night at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. $35, $40. 561-655-7226; www.fourarts.org.

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Tue Feb 3, 2009
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