Radu Lupu, Vol. II;  Szymon Goldberg;  Stoika Milanova;  Gabrieli Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-1335)
Item# P1428
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Radu Lupu, Vol. II;  Szymon Goldberg;  Stoika Milanova;  Gabrieli Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-1335)
P1428. RADU LUPU: Violin Sonata #21 in e, K.304 (Mozart), Live Performance, Queen Elisabeth Hall, London, 13 Jan., 1974 (w. SZYMON GOLDBERG): Violin Sonata in D (Franck), (w. STOIKA MILANOVA), Live Performance, Smith Square, London, 11 Feb., 1972; Piano Quintet in g (Shostakovitch) (w. GABRIELI QUARTET), Live Performance, Smith Square, London, 5 March, 1973. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1335. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“In this, the second volume of its Radu Lupu Edition, St. Laurent Studio provides new insights into the acclaimed Romanian pianist, who died this year at the age of 76. Any expansion of Lupu’s studio recordings is welcome, and here we get two new additions to his discography, the Mozart Violin Sonata #21 and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet. The program takes items from three concerts given in London in the early Seventies, in other words, when Lupu was in his late twenties. Having heard little to nothing of him live, I was intrigued by these well-recorded broadcasts (I assume they are broadcasts, but producer Yves St.-Laurent doesn’t reveal his sources). They allow us to hear whether Lupu’s music-making became more animated under concert conditions.

There is no decisive answer. The work that gives him the most scope for powerful emotions and dramatic impact is the Shostakovich, where Lupu is joined by the Gabrieli Quartet. Like him, they recorded for Decca but didn’t achieve nearly the same level of fame, much less the mystique that surrounded the pianist. The spacious church acoustic in Smith Square is well balanced, the strings placed closer than the piano and both given air to breathe. The reading itself is expert and forthright. Lupu responds dynamically to the live setting - I don’t hear the contained expression that features in his Schubert, for example.

The Gabrielis respond with matching intensity in the first movement and muted sensitivity in the second, titled Fugue. The string sonority is quite lovely here, in fact. The rollicking Scherzo is a little reined in compared with the unbuttoned playing of Sivatoslav Richter and Martha Argerich, but without a doubt Lupu has presence and builds to powerful climaxes. The lyrical Intermezzo begins with lovely solo work by the first violin, and the passages for the strings alone underline just how luminous the Gabrieli’s sonority is. The finale unfolds as expressively as everything else. Lupu and the Gabrieli Quartet…offer superb musicianship throughout.

The Franck Violin Sonata in A received an outstanding studio recording in 1981 from Lupu and Kyung-Wha Chung. I hadn’t heard of the Bulgarian violinist Stoika Milanova (b. 1945), who is heard here, but she was an Oistrrakh pupil and a prizewinner at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1967; she later took first place in the Carl Flesch Competition in 1970. I see at least one recording for Decca, of two Brandenburg Concertos under Karl Munchinger, although after the Eighties Milanova seems to have concentrated on teaching.

Here, more than in the Shostakovich, my expectation was fulfilled that Lupu would be little different in concert from his studio recording. His playing is controlled and contained yet always considered and beautiful. Milanova might not have Chung’s star presence, but the difference isn’t very noticeable. She is highly accomplished and musical here. This is such an engrossing performance that I have no criticism - in fact, Lupu is a little freer than on his studio account, for example, in the solo piano flourishes that open the second movement. The recorded sound from Smith Square in 1972 is close to studio quality and has been expertly processed by St.-Laurent.

With Lupu caught at his finest in both works, it would be ideal to report that the Mozart sonata rises to the same level. The Polish-born violinist Szymon Goldberg (1909–93) had a prominent career, which included playing under Furtwängler as concertmaster of the Berlin philharmonic from 1930 until forced expulsion by the Nazis in 1934. He was also in a string trio with Hindemith and Emmanuel Feuermann. (On a tour of Asia in 1942 with pianist Lili Krauss, he was interned with her and their families in Java by the Japanse until 1945.) Here in 1974 the partnership of the 65-year-old Goldberg and the young Lupu is almost May-December.

Mozart’s mood in the popular Violin Sonata #21 is sometimes attached to the sad circumstances surrounding the composition in 1778. Mozart was in Paris when news came of his mother’s death, and this sonata is his only instrumental work in e minor. There are only two movements, and despite its lively tune, the opening Allegro feels a bit formulaic to me, particularly in the lack of real imagination - there is a lot of bare unison writing for violin and piano. One hears more feeling in the second-movement Menuet. Yet I can’t escape the feeling that Goldberg and Lupu aren’t in an inspired mood. The piano playing is often on the blunt side, and Goldberg gives a straightforward, rather impersonal reading of the violin part. Nothing goes amiss, but nothing is very memorable, either.

Happily, the Mozart occupies the smallest portion of this disc. Lupu’s fans will cherish the Franck and Shostakovich performances, and for a general listener, both readings are well worth experiencing for their sterling qualities.”

- Huntley Dent, FANFARE

“A sure sign that there’s something special about Radu Lupu is the awe that he inspires in other top performers. Talking to THE NEW YORKER critic Alex Ross a while ago, Mitsuko Uchida called him ‘the most talented guy I have ever met’. (Ross also wrote about Lupu in 2005, and described a Lupu recording as ‘one of the most beautiful piano records ever made’.) The gifted young pianist Kirill Gerstein described Lupu’s uniqueness well in a recent interview:

When asked what it is that makes Lupu such a significant pianist, Gerstein mused that ‘(Lupu) transcends any technical or musical issues and creates a certain magic that he conjures up in the air in the concert hall. He manages to create a very intimate atmosphere. It is something that you can’t get from a recording’, Gerstein continued, ‘you must experience it live. His sound in the concert hall is absolutely irreplaceable’.

What is it about Lupu’s sound, then? Sound is notoriously hard to describe in words, but here’s a stab at it. The basic tone of the piano is, on its own, quite neutral by comparison with other instruments. This means that the sound worlds evoked by the piano vary enormously, depending on how different composers write for it. In the core classical repertoire (Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert), for which Lupu is best known, you expect a sound that is muscular, objective, straightforward. In another school of piano writing (extending, say, from Chopin to Debussy and Scriabin), something more diaphanous and sensual seems appropriate. Here, for comparison, is the same pianist, Claudio Arrau, playing in one style, and the other.

What Lupu somehow has done, I think, is to find greater amplitude, more layered gradations of subtlety, within the world of the basic classical sound than anyone else. His playing is infinitely refined without ever exceeding the bounds of what’s idiomatic for the music….to me, it’s as if a new light glows from the very heart of the piece. I remember, a few years ago, hearing Lupu play the quietest, strangest, but maybe most compelling ‘Appassionata’ I’ve ever heard. Not a quiet piece, you would think, but, actually, a lot of the final movement is marked ‘quiet’ in the score, and playing it this way imparts a nocturnal quality.

There’s another facet to the excitement of a Lupu concert: he no longer records. You know that when you hear him play, you will never hear the piece like this again….when you go to his concerts, your ears and brain have to drink in all they can. There are details of his performances that I can remember years later….But I also know that there were many more such details than I could possibly remember. They have left a vague imprint of wonderment, as after a dream….That sound again. Instead of foreground and background, melody and accompaniment, there seemed to be a whole ecosystem of sound: lines emerging, glowing briefly, then fading.”

- Leo Carey, THE NEW YORKER, 24 Jan., 2013