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Radu Lupu Presents Stunning Schubert

// Feb 1,2011

By C.J. Gianakaris

KALAMAZOO – Radu Lupu may not be a household name in this locale. That should change after Monday night’s spellbinding performance by the Romanian-born pianist. Lupu played before a sold-out Chenery Auditorium for the Gilmore Piano Masters Series, performing two works by Schumann and Schubert’s late Sonata in B-flat Major. Everything about Lupu bespoke focus and concentration. His walking on stage began a no-fuss process to enter into the soul of each selection.

A compact, bearded man, Lupu — notoriously undemonstrative — quietly sat before the Steinway, and the program commenced with Schumann’s charming “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2. A compilation of 12 brief pieces, loosely suggesting a story line, “Papillons” is straightforward. Its attractive melodies come in a variety of formats, while main motifs re-emerge for cohesiveness.

Lupu’s playing was bewitching, his touch so light the notes appeared sounded without keys being pressed. Most of the short pieces were dances, providing spirited, uplifting music. Lupu made quick work of the numerous rapid octave runs and rippling arpeggios. Schumann’s “Bunte Blatter” (Colored Leaves), Op. 99, followed, a piece possessing more breadth and depth. Especially successful were “Marsch” (March), “Scherzo” and Geschwindmarsch” (Quick March).

Schubert’s Sonata 21 in B-flat Major, D. 960, however, was the crowning achievement of the program. Composed just prior to Schubert’s death at the age of 31, the work incorporates multiple musical ideas that cannot be contained in ordinary sonata format. The result was a long work overflowing with fetching melodies and intriguing variations enhanced by numerous modulations.

The opening movement (“Molto moderato”) ran 20 minutes long. The noble melody underpinning the section was examined from countless perspectives, each a discreet discovery of beauty. Lupu’s left hand ostinato was inhumanly steady beneath the repeated haunting melody sung in the right.

Slightly slower, the second movement (“Andante sostenuto”) featured a minor mood through sad minor thirds. Lupu’s ability with pianissimos was evident all through the concert, but particularly here where sweetness of tone never vanished, whatever the score’s dynamics. Lupu evidenced uncanny control throughout.

The final two movements introduced frolicking motifs and fetching syncopation, with a startling forte outburst of Beethoven-like thunder. Every note had its purpose and contribution, in Lupu’s brilliant presentation. The filled house sat quietly throughout, concentrating along with Lupu who rewarded listeners with a delicate and lovely encore, said by consensus to be by Schumann.

Originally posted in the Kalamazoo Gazette.