LPO/Saraste Radu Lupu – Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto & Brahms’s First Symphony

Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Radu Lupu (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 December, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Jukka-Pekka SarasteWith the London Philharmonic having played Brahms’s First Symphony at this year’s BBC Proms and then on a tour of Australia (all with Vladimir Jurowski), it seemed rather soon to be returning to it, and with a conductor not celebrated for his performances of this area of the repertoire. That said, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, with no need of a score, plunged into the work with welcoming applause still in the air (and in doing so nearly caught at least one member of the LPO out!) to lead an urgent and commanding account that was detail-conscious as well as eloquent and deeply felt. In a rendition both resolute and yielding, the LPO responded with dedication and unanimity, observing powerful surges and soft hues, and there were some notable solo contributions, not least from Pieter Schoeman (violin), Jaime Martin (flute), Ian Hardwick (oboe) and John Ryan (horn), the performance as a whole not only beautifully engineered but also brimming with energetic life and poetic expression.

Radu Lupu. Photograph: DeccaThe current regrettable trend of denying audiences an ‘overture’ of some sort seemed particularly irksome here. Thus we crashed ‘cold’ into the opening of the ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Radu Lupu (no stranger recently to London through appearances with the LSO as well as recitals in Brighton and Oxford) giving a gentle if also potent riposte to the orchestra’s majestic chords. Humanity, subtlety, and clarity of expression informed Lupu’s contribution, always at the accommodation of the orchestral writing (details emerged naturally instead of competing with a dominating soloist), Saraste and the LPO very much en rapport with this unassuming, enigmatic if compelling pianist/artist, whose fortissimos are never forced or percussive. The slow movement, taken at a now-unfashionable spacious tempo, with no worries about ‘authenticity’, was very affecting, Lupu’s notes seeming like starlight, the effect with the orchestra’s hush was rapt. The finale, also measured, danced rather than careered and the lyrical asides were elegant.

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