Radu Lupu does not come from a musical family, but began piano lessons at the age of six with Lia Busuioceanu and made his debut in public at twelve playing a programme of his own compositions. He continued his studies with Cella Delavranca and Florica Musicescu, the teacher of Dinu Lipatti. At sixteen Lupu won a scholarship and joined the class of Galina Eghyazarova at the pre-Conservatory in Moscow, and two years later began studies with Heinrich and Stanislav Neuhaus. He gave concerts in Moscow and Leningrad and in the same year won first prize at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. He returned to his studies in Moscow and during his final years of tuition there, won first prize at both the Enescu Competition in Bucharest and the Leeds International Piano Competition in Britain. After the Leeds competition, Lupu gave his London debut in November 1969 which was a great success. Joan Chissell wrote in The Times of Schubert’s four Impromptus D. 899, ‘…he played as if trying to recall a dream.’ Of Lupu’s encore, the Adagio of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 10 No. 3, she wrote, ‘He brought what seemed like a lifetime’s experience to its alternating desolation and pride. Never could music come nearer to speech.’
In 1972 Lupu played in America with the Cleveland Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim in New York, and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Carlo Maria Giulini. He then performed with the New York Philharmonic, and toured America for the next two years. Since then he has regularly toured Europe and the United States, and has also performed in Israel and toured China. During the 1970s Lupu performed the complete Schubert piano sonatas in London and in 1975 he gave the première of André Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, which is dedicated to him. Lupu is the recipient of the Abbiati Prize which is awarded by the Italian Critics’ Association.
Lupu has a reputation for playing Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. In his playing of, for example, the late piano pieces by Brahms, or Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat D. 960, Lupu’s interpretations are often referred to as magical or mystical. At times he employs very quiet dynamics which force the audience to listen acutely, but he also has a definite ability to hold the concentration of his audience with his introspective and sensitive style. A shy and retiring man, Lupu does not enjoy life in the spotlight and when he walks on stage, he makes no attempt to ingratiate himself with his audience.
For an artist of his stature and length of career Lupu has made relatively few recordings. His first disc was of a live performance, recorded in Bucharest, of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 with the Cinematography Orchestra under Constantin Bugeanu. He recorded the same work for Decca in London in 1970 and in 1979 recorded the complete Beethoven piano concertos with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta. Other concerto recordings include the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15 by Brahms, a pair of Mozart concertos with Uri Segal and the English Chamber Orchestra, and the piano concertos by Grieg and Schumann with the London Symphony Orchestra and André Previn.
With violinist Szymon Goldberg, Lupu has recorded Mozart’s complete sonatas for violin and piano, and with violinist Kyung-Wha Chung he recorded the sonatas by César Franck and Claude Debussy in 1977. Lupu has also made some excellent discs of Schubert’s music for piano duet: with Murray Perahia in 1984 for CBS, coupled with Mozart’s Sonata in D major for two pianos K. 448; and with Daniel Barenboim in 1996 for Teldec. With soprano Barbara Hendricks he has made two discs of Schubert lieder, recorded in 1985 and 1992 for French EMI.
Of the solo repertoire Lupu made a fine disc of Brahms’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor Op. 5 in 1981, and in the 1970s recorded the late pieces Opp. 117, 118 and 119. Lupu’s Schubert recordings are some of the finest on disc by pianists of his generation. During the early 1980s he recorded the two sets of Impromptus D. 899 and D. 935 and the Moments Musicaux D. 780, and more recently, in 1991, he recorded the great Piano Sonata in B flat D. 960 and the Piano Sonata in A major D. 664. Lupu uses a wider dynamic range than some pianists for this repertoire and also gives a feeling of being less reverential but no less committed. Lupu’s most recent disc, recorded in 1993 and released in 1995, is of Schumann’s Humoreske Op. 20, Kinderszenen Op. 15 and Kreisleriana Op. 16. His combined poetry and drama make for a wonderful reading of Kreisleriana, and Schumann devotee Joan Chissell wrote of this disc in The Gramophone magazine: ‘As piano playing it has an aristocratic distinction reminiscent of Lipatti. As music-making it is underpinned by a totally unselfconscious kind of intuition, making you feel you are discovering the truth of the matter for the first time.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).