CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2012)

RADU LUPU Piano Concerto Recordings
Decca 468 2922 (6 CDs) / *****

The Romanian pianist Radu Lupu came to prominence after winning 1stprize in both the Van Cliburn and Leeds International Piano Competitions during the 1960s. Despite his very selective performing repertoire of primarily Austro-German works, he remains a deeply compelling interpreter of the great masters. All the concertos he recorded for Decca date from the 1970s and have become benchmark performances of these works. The five Beethoven piano concertos with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta receive very satisfying readings that find just the right balance of vigour, gravity and spirit. Also in this set is an earlier Beethoven Third Concerto (London Symphony / Lawrence Foster) from 1970 that cruises with slightly faster tempos in its outer movements than its 1979 counterpart.

Equally trenchant is Lupu’s Brahms First Concerto(London Philharmonic / Edo de Waart), the logical and historical Romantic era extrapolation of Beethovenian brio. There are just two Mozart concertos (English Chamber / Uri Segal), the early A major (No.12) and popular C major (No.21), with Lupu’s own cadenzas are so naturally heartfelt that makes one wonder why he did not record more Mozart. The tandem of Grieg and Schumann concertos (London Symphony / Andre Previn) is among the best in the catalogue. As an appendix to the concertos, the piano quintets (with woodwinds) by Mozart and Beethoven reveal him to be a sensitive chamber musician as well. This slim-line box-set, which reproduces original artwork of the LPs, is practically self-recommending.  

BOOK IT: BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto Cycle
Lim Yan with The Philharmonic Orchestra / Lim Yau
School of the Arts Concert Hall
8, 13 & 16 June 2012 at 8 pm
Tickets available at: (Tel:6100-2005) / SingPost / SAM

Deutsche Grammophon 477 9548 / ****1/2

It was a matter of time that someone coupled on disc the piano works of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918), composers described to be impressionist in inspiration and aesthete. Young Polish award-winning pianist Rafal Blechacz however does not include Szymanowski’s Masques or Metopes, with their obvious aural connections with Debussy.

Instead he opts for the early and rarely heard First Sonata Op.8, composed in 1903-4 with the conventional four movement form closer in spirit to Beethoven and Brahms. However the scintillating finger-work it demands is Lisztian, with a sumptuous aroma that is Straussian (Richard, not the Johanns). The ambitious fugue that closes the finale with outrageous glissandi is a tour de force in contrapuntal writing, as is the more sedate Prelude & Fugue in C sharp minor from the same period. The young Szymanowski was an eclectic voice in search of his definitive self.

From the first five years of the 20th century also come Debussy’s famous piano suites Pour Le Piano and Estampes, which already bear the imprimatur of greatness. Blechacz ravishes these with an exquisite mastery of colour and textures, with the ecstatic pages of L’Isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island) completing this very successful survey of the familiar and arcane.