Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K310
Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K545
Piano Sonata No. 18 in G major, D894
Andante & Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:6 (Sonata – un piccolo divertimento)
Piano Sonata No. 50 in D major, Hob.XVI:37
Out of Doors, Sz. 81, BB89
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960
Moments Musicaux, D780: No. 3 in F minor
Two Scherzi, D593
Recorded at the Aldeburgh Festival, Maltings Concert Hall, June 7, 1970 and June 24, 1971 and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, October 17, 1971
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: January 2024
CD No: Doremi: 2 CDs download and stream: DHR-82156
Duration: 158 minutes
In 1969 the 23 year old Romanian, Radu Lupu won the Leeds International Piano Competition and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists, whose recorded legacy was, alas, rather meagre (although the Lupu devotee, Ates Tanin has quite a few privately taped performances), so live recordings such as this are especially valuable. The composers are taken in alphabetical order.
The opening piece of Bartok’s Out of Doors, With Trumpets & Drums, is marked Pesante, which Lupu interprets as extremely violent. He powers his way through The Chase and yet at a slow tempo the range of instrumental colour and exquisitely soft chimes in The Night’s Music are virtually unparalleled.
At a leisurely tempo his phrasing of the theme in the Haydn’s Variation is decidedly romantic, the finger-work crystalline, he makes discrete use of the sustaining pedal and you can say much the same of the Sonata, where the Largo e sostenuto is particularly beautiful. What may be more problematic for modern listeners is his failure to observe most of the repeats.
His tempi in the two Mozart Sonatas – with repeats – where K.310s opening Allegro maestoso becomes con molto, the finale is much slower than the marked Presto and his tempi in the Andantes are different for purely expressive reasons, indicate that thankfully he was trained in pre-HIPP days. Indeed it is difficult to imagine anything more perfect than his playing of those slow movements.
With Schubert’s D.894, everyone thinks of Richter, whose massively slow performances of the first movement remain one of the wonders of the pianistic world, but Lupu, at almost eighteen and a half minutes weaves a magic spell of incredibly beautiful tone, aided by superb use of the pedals and subtle dynamic and tempo variation. The Andante and Menuetto are leisurely and conversational in tone, but the tempo variation in the latter is wonderfully old-world, as is the gorgeously phrased Trio and he is no hurry in the Allegretto finale, which sounds improvisatory.
Despite being slower, Lupu sounds more impetuous and contemplative in the first movement of D.960 with the repeat than on his recording and then there is the Andante sostenuto, where at a very slow tempo Lupu creates a profoundly beautiful, deeply felt reverie. He then dances delightfully at speed through the Scherzo and finale. The encore is a stately, but smiling account of the F minor Moments musicaux and the Scherzi are equally delightful.
The bang on pitch sound is excellent, without any distortion. In an ideal world the pianos would have a richer tone and while Doremi might want to produce exact copies of the concerts, it took me about half-an-hour to remove most of the intrusive coughing in the slow movement of D.960 using industry standard software and I would strongly recommend they do this in future.