Concert pianist Radu Lupu is a renowned interpreter of the Austro-German school of composers, which includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms, among others. The Romanian-born pianist, who lives in London, is an esteemed guest performer with symphonies across Europe and North America. A critic for London’s Independent newspaper, Adrian Jack, deemed him “one of the ‘great’ pianists of our time in some of the greatest music of all time. To Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms he brings a depth and seriousness, a sense of infinity, that makes other pianists—even some fine ones—seem shallow and inexperienced by comparison.”
Lupu was born on November 30, 1945, in Romania, and began studying piano at the age of six. His debut came just six years later, when he performed several works that he had composed himself. He attended high school in the Transylvanian city of Brasov, and continued his studies with teachers Florica Muzicescu and Cella Delavranca. His innate talent soon brought him wider attention, however: Romania, under Communist leadership after World War II, was nominally allied with the Soviet Union, and like many musical prodigies of his generation in Eastern Europe, Lupu was awarded a scholarship to the renowned Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky State Conservatory. He studied there with Galina Eghyazarova, Heinrich Neuhaus, and later Stanislav Neuhaus.
Lupu won a trio of prestigious international competitions during the 1960s, beginning with first prize at the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas in 1966. “I just did not expect it at all,” he told the New York Times, and admitted with some relief that the Van Cliburn challenge had concluded. “Contests are very nervewracking. I really do not like competition at all.” The prize of $10,000 was a small fortune at the time, and winners were also booked on an international concert tour. As part of his scheduled engagements, Lupu debuted at New York City’s Carnegie Hall the following April. Despite his misgivings about competition, three years later he entered and took first prize in the Leeds Piano Competition in Britain, another showcase of upand-coming young performers.
Since then Lupu has gone on to enjoy a thriving career as a concert pianist, regularly invited to perform with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. His rigorous stage persona became part of his allure: he never chats with the audience, or even smiles; instead he appears intensely focused, and even refuses the comfort of a padded piano bench—preferring instead a standard office chair. His sole interaction with the audience is a glare when he wishes it to be silent. What remains are his musical gifts, and for these he has won enthusiastic praise from critics. In 1991 he played
For the Record…
Born on November 30, 1945, in Galati, Romania; son of Meyer and Ana (Gabor) Lupu. Education: Studied at Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, 1961-69.
Made concert debuts in New York City, 1967; in London, 1969; and in Berlin, 1971; has since been hailed as a “great” pianist by critics, renowned for both his virtuoso technique and interpretation, especially of Austro-German music; had produced 24 recordings by 2001; continues to make concert appearances with prestigious orchestras around the world.
Awards: First prize, Van Cliburn Competition, 1966; Enescu Competition, 1967; Leeds Competition, 1969; Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beelden geluidsdragers (Dutch Association of Producers and Importers of Image and Sound Media), Edison Award for Schumann: Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, Humoresque, 1995; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) for Schubert: Piano Sonatas in B Flat Major and A Major, 1995.
Addresses: Agent —Terry Harrison Artists Management, The Orchard, Market Street, Charlbury, Oxon OX7 3PJ England.
Mozart’s C Minor Concerto in a solo spot with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (without conductor) at Carnegie Hall. Nation music critic Edward W. Said reviewed it and commended both on a fine performance. Said termed Lupu “certainly the most fastidious and self-effacing of contemporary pianists, a performer whose pianissimos, rhythmic intelligence and, yes, scales are incredible, but whose strong musical personality is expressed, like Orpheus’s, by understatement and an almost stoical reflectiveness.”
Although much of Lupu’s repertoire is culled from the Austro-German school of composers, at a Carnegie Hall performance in 1994 he played selections from modernist Hungarian composer Béla Bartók as well as Schubert’s difficult Four Impromptus. “The lightness of this player’s touch, the devilish agility of his fingers, the evenness of the twisting unison scale passages, represented a transcendent order of pianism,” remarked Harris Goldsmith in a review of the Schubert selection for American Record Guide. “This was probably the finest performance of this treacherous piece I have ever heard.”New York Times reviewer Edward Rothstein commented on the same concert and Lupu’s unusually remote stage demeanor: “He doesn’t really seem to care if anybody is listening; he is playing as if for himself,” Rothstein remarked, “giving the music an unusual immediacy.”
In Los Angeles in 1998 Lupu played Bartók’s Out of Doors suite. Los Angeles Times journalist Mark Swed commended the performance: “Always serious, even glum, he whacked left-hand clusters as imitation drums and skidded across the keyboard in acrobatic fashion, again and again finding deeper and deeper levels of expression in even the slightest of gestures. The Barcarole movement came as close to the representation of fluidity as one is likely to ever encounter from a mechanical keyboard.” The following year Lupu returned to the city for a recital of Brahms’s epic Piano Sonata no. 3 in F minor, and again won enthusiastic praise. “Rarely has it sounded more impassioned, more spontaneously exhaled than in the mercurial ebb and flow of Lupu’s intense vision,” remarked Los Angeles Times performance critic John Henken. “He can make the instrument shriek or sigh.”
Lupu has added a work from Czech composer Leos Janácek to his repertoire, Sonata 1.x.1905 (“From the Street”), a piece that commemorates a 1905 political demonstration in Janácek’s hometown of Brno in which antigovernment protesters died. Lupu performed the piece in Dallas in early 2000, and “made the work an intimate, gripping revelation,” according to Dallas Morning News journalist Scott Cantrell. “But then most of his recital had an intensely interior focus. The audience was there not to be entertained, but to be allowed to eavesdrop on something amazing. It was a great privilege.”
Lupu made his Seattle debut in early 2001, playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Major (“Waldstein”) at Benaroya Hall. The performance was reviewed by Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer R.M. Campbell, who remarked that it was the same piece of music with which Lupu had taken first prize in the 1969 Leeds Competition. “But there is nothing tired or worn about his reading. It is fresh and alive and striking in its originality,” Campbell noted. “Lupu’s ‘Waldstein’ was intimate. The listener went to him, for Lupu rarely went to the audience, although when he did, the effect of those thundering fortissimos was awesome. But then so were the pianissimos.” Campbell said the performance was suspenseful: “Everything in the work, even its best-known bits, had the air of newness, without eccentricity or artificiality. And it was entirely compelling.”
Though Lupu lives in London, he performs there rarely. His recordings have also been sporadic, though he won a Grammy Award in 1995 for Schubert: Piano Sonatas in B Flat Major and A Major. Another recording of Schubert Lieder, made with Barbara Hendricks, was also well received: “Lupu plays with sensitivity and imagination,” asserted Opera News critic Andrew Colton. When he attempted a series of Schumann piano pieces—Humoresque, Kinderszenen, and Kreisleriana—American Record Guide critic Harold C. Schonberg compared him to legendary pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Alfred Denis Cortot. Lupu “knows how to shape a melody without exaggeration, and only the elect have this kind of easy, inevitable flow,” Schonberg stated.
Lupu has also recorded Schubert piano works for four hands with Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, which were issued by the Teldec label in the late 1990s. American Record Guide critic Alexander Morin praised the duet. “The three marches are bright and bouncy, and the ingenious and tender variations are skillfully presented. It isn’t easy to record piano sound realistically,” Morin reminded readers, but found that the engineers in this case had done an admirable job. “These two talented pianists play in sympathy with each other and with the music, and the result is full of charm,” Morin concluded.
Mozart: Piano Concertos No. 21 in C (K. 467) & No. 12 in A (K. 414) English Chamber Orchestra/Uri Segal, London, 1975.
Lupu Plays Brahms, London, 1978.
Schubert: Lieder, EMI, 1986.
Schubert: Sonata in A Minor, Sonata in G Major, London, 1987.
(With Murray Perahia) Mozart: Concertos for Two and Three Pianos, Sony Classical, 1991.
(With Barbara Hendricks) Schubert: Lieder, Vol. 2., EMI Classics, 1993.
Schubert: Piano Sonatas D. 960 and D. 664, London, 1994.
Schumann: Humoresque, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, 1996.
(With Daniel Barenboim) Schubert: Grand Duo, Variations D. 813, Marches militaires, Teldec, 1997.
American Record Guide, May-June 1994, p. 50; July-August 1995, p. 188; July-August 1996, p. 192; January-February 1998, p. 165.
Dallas Morning News, January 20, 2000, p. A29.
Independent (London, England), October 3, 2001, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1998, p. 6; February 8, 1999,. p. 6.
Nation, May 6, 1991, p. 604.
New York Times, October 10, 1966; February 11, 1980; January 20, 1994, p. C15.
Opera News, January 22, 1994, p. 41.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 21, 2001 p. D4.
Lupu, Radu, outstanding Romanian pianist; b. Galai, Nov. 30, 1945. He began his piano studies at the age of 6, making his recital debut when he was 12; then studied with Florica Muzicescu and on scholarship at the Moscow Cons. (1963), where he studied with Heinrich and Stanislau Neuhaus until 1969. In quick succession he won first prize in the Van Cliburn (1966), Enesco (1967), and Leeds (1969) competitions. In 1972 he made his American debut as soloist with the Cleveland Orch., and subsequently played with the Chicago, Los Angeles, N.Y., and Boston orchs. In Europe he made successful appearances in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Vienna, and other cities in varied programs ranging from Classical to modern works.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire