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Radu Lupu plays St. George’s, Bristol

// Oct 25,2005

Rian Evans

For his piano recital at St George’s, the Romanian Radu Lupu chose an all-Schumann programme. As always, Lupu’s demeanour was quite unlike that of any other pianist. Leaning right back in his chair, apparently nonchalant, he invested Schumann’s melodies with a super-relaxed tone; yet the music was so tightly focused as to hold the listener in Lupu’s thrall throughout the evening.

He began with the Waldszenen Op 82; the forest scenes that figured large in the imagination of the German Romantics. Typically, Schumann alternates between the simplest of song-like evocations and more elaborate, pianistic figurations, between moods of joy and forays into darker territory. Here, and in the Humoreske Op 20, Lupu took care to highlight the harmonies and, in particular, to sustain the emotional tension of the last bars of each piece so that it coalesced with the next, the transition from one to the other sometimes almost imperceptible. In this way, the chain of linked pieces, mere mosaic in the hands of others, had a wholeness and integrity.

Lupu seemed to play down the customary emphasis on Schumann’s narrative allusions, instead bringing a profound insight into the compositional process, the debt to Bach emerging clearly, as did the often idiosyncratic rhythmic complexities. This approach helped sharpen perceptions for the single work of the second half, the Sonata in F sharp minor Op 11, which has no literary or programmatic associations as such. Now Lupu’s sound was more robust, the cast of the phrasing so deliberate as to be almost rhetorical.

Nevertheless, he could still make the scherzo carry a fantasy quality and allow himself a degree of comparative abandon in the finale, before reinforcing the nobility of the sonata’s climax together with his own and Schumann’s seriousness of purpose.

Originally posted on The Guardian in 2005.

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