The superlative Romanian pianist Radu Lupu died April 17, in Switzerland, following long illness. He was 76. In his 20s, after winning several of the major competitions of the later 1960s, Radu Lupu began an international career with intensely focused recordings of repertory — late Brahms, “late” Schubert — which was not then at all overplayed.
Unlike the case with most others of his cohort, everything Lupu produced was imbued with a grave, long thought-about stillness and deep intention. It sounded unshowy and largely straightforward, at least this repertory, but also was above all quite consciously colored: Lupu felt that tone production was a “matching process for which [one] practices” and the physical contact of the keyboard was “a very individual thing determined by the color or timbre you hear and try to get, the piece you are playing, the phrase.” (His teachers had taught Lipatti and Richter.)
Beethoven in Lupu’s hands sometimes could come off as overinflected and Mozart fussed, and Lupu did not offer as much Chopin as others, but in Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms the purity and the control struck (sometimes thunderstruck) listeners, judges, jaded reviewers, and fellow pianists alike. After one recital NY Times critic Allen Hughes pointed out something which I myself found to hold for Lupu’s recordings as well: it was as though he “were employing some sort of alchemy to work a spell over everyone. That, indeed, is just about what he did, for he has that mysterious something that goes beyond technique, erudition and general musicality to reach into the sensibilities of listeners.”