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Radu Lupu offers stunning recital at Shriver Hall

Until Sunday night, it had been more than three decades since pianist Radu Lupu performed for Shriver Hall Concert Series. There's no telling if, or when, he might be back, but those who experienced this Beethoven/Schubert recital will be able to live off the memories for a long, long time.

The greatest keyboard artists command attention from the first notes they play, not just in terms of accuracy and confidence, but in the color, the shading, the communicative quality of the touch. That's how it was Sunday with the opening measure of Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in E major -- Lupu's articulation was so refined and intimate that you couldn't help but be drawn in, and that was just the beginning of what would be a totally absorbing evening.

Lupu, 63, has spent a lot of time with the keyboard canon of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and other giants, has analyzed each note and harmonic turn from every possible angle. But all of that care and consideration doesn't turn his playing into the equivalent of professorial lectures. He makes everything sound spontaneous and freshly spun, as if he were composing, not just interpreting, the music. That's how it was with the E major Sonata, which flowed beguilingly, not to mention the Sonata No. 10 in G major (Lupu gave remarkable attention to every dynamic shift in the second movement's wry little tune).

The Pathetique Sonata rounded out the Beethoven half of the program. Here, Lupu's flair for the dramatic paid off handsomely, summoning massive sonorities in the outer movements' most heated passages. The pianist also achieved extraordinary warmth in the Adagio; I don't think I've heard anyone make this music sound so poignant.

Schubert's profound B-flat Sonata filled the second half. Lupu, once again, delivered an insightful performance, one bathed in the dappled light of a late afternoon. The technical mastery alone would have made the playing significant. The interpretive depth --  nowhere more compelling than in his hushed, unhurried approach to the bittersweet second movement -- gave it the stuff of greatness. The pianist also turned to Schubert for an encore, spinning out the G-flat Impromptu with affecting eloquence.


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