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Mr. Lupu Plays A Laargo

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
01/31/2013 -  & February 1*, 2, 2013
Ludwig van Beethoven: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus: Overture, Opus 43 – Piano Concerto Number 1 in C Major, Opus 15 – Symphony Number 5 in C minor, Opus 67

Radu Lupu (Piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (Conductor)

C. von Dohnányi (© Courtesy of the Artist)

Even Ludwig van Beethoven might have been astonished at the homages in his honor this week. At Carnegie Hall, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is playing every Beethoven symphony over the week, the ensemble of Palestinians, Israelis and other Middle Easterners giving meaning to the Ninth Symphony opening words celebrating mankind.

Not to be outdone in global brotherhood, the German-born Hungarian-descended Christoph von Dohnányi led the New York Philharmonic with a Rumanian soloist trained in Russia, living now in Switzerland. The program? Again, all Beethoven!!

But what Beethoven. At first, it didn’t seem terribly promising, with the overture to the rarely played (and never danced these days), Creatures of Prometheus. While the finale is known for its “Eroica” theme, the overture is usually pleasant wispy thing. Not, though, under the stately and extremely powerful Maestro Dohnányi. What could have been a blustering good piece was subtly shaded, almost sculpted by the conductor. All three of the works on the program were written within a few years of each other, and this overture, usually almost a throwaway, was given a hefty meaning.

That was excellent, just as the Fifth Symphony after the intermission was given a rare intensity. One expects a conductor to turn to the audience and say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one”, but Mr. Dohnányi has too much respect and too great a feeling for anything even approaching levity.

R. Lupu (© Decca Records)

For me, though, the most astonishing, beautiful and absolutely memorable moments of the concert came in the second movement of Beethoven’s First (actually his second) Piano Concerto.

Radu Lupu was, as in his earlier recital, a hieratical figure, austere on his office chair, thinking perhaps sacred thoughts as fingers glistened over the keys. The orchestral opening was modest, Mr. Lupu’s introduction was so perfect that one forgot the extreme virtuosity needed (Beethoven played the premiere himself). Rather, those fountains of notes glistened like the most precious jewels, without force, without even a scintilla of exhibitionism.

The Largo movement, though, was like an apotheosis of Dohnányi, Lupu and Beethoven together. And it is no insult to the composer that the pianist, setting his own tempo (more Andante than Largo) proceeded to make Beethoven sound like Chopin. He never needlessly paused (Mr. Lupu is not the kind of artist who needs to emphasize his points), but each note was a joy in itself. And final duet with clarinetist Mark Nuccio was almost operatic.

The finale was not as jazzy as some pianists work it, but Mr. Lupu didn’t need to swing those syncopations. His fingers did the work for him. His artistic personality may still be a mystery, but his are the mysteries of creation and revelation.

Harry Rolnick



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