Radu Lupu

Beethoven: The Piano Concertos; 3 Sonatas; 2 Rondos

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There are only three things wrong with this collection of Beethoven's Piano Concertos featuring Romanian pianist Radu Lupu -- 1. Zubin Mehta on the podium, 2. the Israel Philharmonic is on-stage, and 3. Lupu has said he will never again record these or any other works. Nevertheless, Lupu's collection of Beethoven's Piano Concertos belongs on the shelf with the best performances of the works because Lupu is by common assent one of the great pianists of his generation. Why? Because his technique is so flawless it's imperceptible, because his tone is at once clear, high, full, and deep, because temperament combines the poetic and dramatic without a hint of the rhetorical, and, best of all, because his interpretations are wholly individual, his rounded phrasing, and molded structures unmistakably Lupu, but never for an instant self-indulgent. Despite the fact that Mehta does no more than beat time behind Lupu -- and that not especially well: listen to his cues in the opening of the Fifth Concerto -- and the Israel Philharmonic does no more than keep up with Lupu -- and that not always successfully: listen to the scrappy string ensemble in the closing Rondo of the First Concerto -- Lupu's playing is so poised, polished, and controlled that it transforms these performances from the hopeless to transcendent. In the three sonatas, the two Rondos, and the C minor Variations, the unaccompanied Lupu is simply sublime while in the delightful Quintet for piano and winds, Lupu, in the company of four first-rate soloists, is absolutely charming. Anyone who has never heard Radu Lupu should listen to these discs. It will be like discovering a new continent. Decca's sound is oddly muffled in the concerto recordings, but clean enough in the solo and chamber works.

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