Schubert: Piano Sonatas
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Here is Radu Lupa SCHUBERT Piano Sonatas / Klaviersonaten D960 Bb/B-Dut - D664 A/A-Dur LONDON/ DECCA / 1994 see scans of cover for playlist Track Listing 1. D. 664: 1. Allegro moderato Piano Sonata in A major 2. D. 664: 2. Andante Piano Sonata in A major 3. D. 664: 3. Allegro Piano Sonata in A major 4. D. 960: 1. Molto moderato Piano Sonata in B flat major 5. D. 960: 2. Andante sostenuto Piano Sonata in B flat major 6. D. 960: 3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza Piano Sonata in B flat major 7. D. 960: 4. Allegro ma non troppo Piano Sonata in B flat major
Radu Lupu is one of our greatest contemporary pianists. He works within a relatively narrow range on recordings (although he plays a greater variety in concert) and makes only a few of them. But as a player of music from Beethoven to Brahms--and especially of Schubert--he has made some of the best piano CDs in the catalog. His playing here is simply exquisite. The lighthearted D. 664 sounds carefree and charming, while the deep emotionalism of Schubert's last Piano Sonata (D. 960) is extremely convincing and affecting here. These are recordings for the ages, so we are fortunate that their piano sound is so good. --Leslie Gerber
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The technique is flawless, the musicality is inspirational and Schubert's masterful status is fully vindicated in every note.
This recording, like all of Lupu's Schubert, is unsurpassed.
I should add, for those who are yet to listen to this music, once you do, you will play it many, many times.
To insist here on the beauty of the two Schubert sonatas, seems to me rather useless. They are generally regarded as undisputed masterpieces of the classical-romantic repertoire for solo piano. What Lupu does succeed by performing them is to highlight their poetic flavour in an otherworldly - though so simple, in essence - manner of playing the piano. The romantic exaltation gets a welcome quietness, while the noble melancholy dominates the proceedings. At times, droplets of hope occur, as vivid melodies pierce through the air.
Lupu's austere manner of conveying the deepest truths of whatever he chooses to perform literally enraptures his audiences all over the world. Both, when he performs live concerts or releases his (sparse) recordings. This was the case even in Vienna, where the most demanding and knowing of audiences very seldom offers standing ovations, but on that very occasion was happy to. The highlight of that wonderful evening was, of course, Schubert Sonata for it gained - in Lupu's hands - its truest articulation, unfolding its valedictory mood and charming melodies, a rendition that raised thundering applause and called for an encore.
Once returned home, I took this recording from its shelf and I listened to it time and again trying to understand what makes Lupu's artistry so unique and valuable. I guess I found it: his noble approach in serving music, an unceasing care for sound and its beauties, and his philosophy of self effacement in front of the score. A philosophy professed to an unparalleled extent, which excludes from Lupu's style any showy or flamboyant temptation, only securing for the performer the posture of a medium between the composer and the music itself. Like a truly shaman, Lupu talks directly with the spirits of Beethoven or Schubert, regardless we are around or not. There is no room for virtuosity per se in Lupu's renditions. All that it matters is music.
Playing the piano is all about making it sing, seems to be Lupu's lesson. He knows to capture and convey the inner voices of a score like no other living pianist. Therefore, Radu Lupu's appearances - on stage and on disc - are always written down with capital letters in the calendar.
This pairing dates from 1994, a period when Lupu was in the full flight of his artistry. It shows in his assured touch in D. 664, where he makes the most of nuance and refined lyricism. Richter, the greatest of all Schubert players to my mind, could fall into banging and hectic impatience, and Lupu, from the other end of the spectrum, can lapse into punchy, hard-edged accents. that is kept to a minimum here, and one can admire him for bringing out the bold Beethovenian side of the A major sonata, while still remaining poised enough to deliver the lovely melodies with light spontaneity - he's never tinkly or brittle in lyric passages, as Brendel can be (although Schubrt is admittedly one of Brendel's strongest composers). Lupu is free with rubato in the prancing finale, adding variety to its considerable repetitions. In all, an engaging reading that ranks with favorites of mine from Richter and Uchida.
Schubert's trio of late sonatas, which used to be labeled Op. Post., are his greatest achievements for the piano, and during the decades when many pianists played no other piece of his except the Impromptus, the last sonata in B-flat was kept alive by its grandness, haunting melodies, and resemblance to Beethoven's grand scale. The first movement, marked Molto moderato, occasions the widest interpretive ideas - richter takes 24 min. to play it, while lupu, again at the other end of the spectrum, takes 18:27. He is generally light-handed, untroubled by the rumbling trill in the left hand that some find ominous or the general air of melancholy reflection that Richter draws out. Nor does he attack the music with Serkin's rigor and sternness. The result feels too of-hand to me as he skates over passages the cry out for interpretation - but one can argue that the notion of Schubert as essentially a charming melodist still has some reason. Set against that, Lupu paces this movement as an Allegro, ignoring the "molto" in Molto moderato.
One drawback to Richter's ultra-seriousness is that he cannot offer much contrast when he arrives at the halting, self-reflective wistfulness of the slow movement. Instead, he deepens the melancholy even more. Lupu leaves himself a new place to go after the cheerful first movement, but for all is care at phrasing, I find that he pushes the line, as if unwilling to really come to terms with the music's implicit sorrow; this affords little contrast when the second theme, a release into the sun and open air, arrives. He obeys the marking of Allegro vivace to the letter in his skipping account of the Scherzo, but contrasts are underplayed, as if elegance and touch are the whole point of the movement. Other pianists have shown that there's more here. The finale, which also allows a wider range of contrast than Lupu delivers, is fast and agreeable but nothing more. The best part are the sudden fortissimo eruptions that Lupu engages with real vitality.
As proof that the metronome is a bad critic, here are the timings compared with Pollini's searching and totally convincing account of the B-flat Sonata, which feels very different despite very close similarities in timing:
Mvt. 1 - 18:56 18:27
Mvt. 2 - 9:42 9:35
Mvt. 3 - 3:52 3:51
Mvt. 4 - 7:27 7:41
Throughout, Decca's piano sound is good without being exceptional; at least it's not as hard-edged as in some of Lupu's other Schubert recordings (It's also warmer than what DG gave Pollini). I would recommend this disc for the lovely a major sonata but not the B-flat, a majestic mountain that Lupu climbs only to its lower slopes.