« David Hardy, Lambert Orkis and dual-angle Beethoven | Main | Ageless Barbara Cook lights up Kennedy Center »

February 9, 2009

Radu Lupu offers stunning recital at Shriver Hall

Until Sunday night, it had been more than three decades since pianist Radu Lupu performed for Shriver Hall Concert Series. There's no telling if, or when, he might be back, but those who experienced this Beethoven/Schubert recital will be able to live off the memories for a long, long time.

The greatest keyboard artists command attention from the first notes they play, not just in terms of accuracy and confidence, but in the color, the shading, the communicative quality of the touch. That's how it was Sunday with the opening measure of Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in E major -- Lupu's articulation was so refined and intimate that you couldn't help but be drawn in, and that was just the beginning of what would be a totally absorbing evening.

Lupu, 63, has spent a lot of time with the keyboard canon of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and other giants, has analyzed each note and harmonic turn from every possible angle. But all of that care and consideration doesn't turn his playing into the equivalent of professorial lectures. He makes everything sound spontaneous and freshly spun, as if he were composing, not just interpreting, the music. That's how it was with the E major Sonata, which flowed beguilingly, not to mention the Sonata No. 10 in G major (Lupu gave remarkable attention to every dynamic shift in the second movement's wry little tune).

The Pathetique Sonata rounded out the Beethoven half of the program. Here, Lupu's flair for the dramatic paid off handsomely, summoning massive sonorities in the outer movements' most heated passages. The pianist also achieved extraordinary warmth in the Adagio; I don't think I've heard anyone make this music sound so poignant.

Schubert's profound B-flat Sonata filled the second half. Lupu, once again, delivered an insightful performance, one bathed in the dappled light of a late afternoon. The technical mastery alone would have made the playing significant. The interpretive depth --  nowhere more compelling than in his hushed, unhurried approach to the bittersweet second movement -- gave it the stuff of greatness. The pianist also turned to Schubert for an encore, spinning out the G-flat Impromptu with affecting eloquence.


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:22 PM | | Comments (1)


I was one of those privileged to be at the Radu Lupu piano concert. The experience was like savouring a Vermeer painting. Lupu's mature sensitivity was in stark contrast to some of today's flamboyant pianists on the concert circuit. The poetic mood that was set was almost otherworldly. His "hushed and unhurried approach" you mention in your commentary made me think of advice I heard in a master class, "Just because you can play it faster doesn't mean you should".

Thanks for your comments. Maybe if more young pianists took the time to listen to the elders, so to speak, they wouldn't turn out to be so 'flamboyant.' Radu's playing provided a model of what you described as 'mature sensitivity,' a level all too rarely heard these days.Tim

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected