My first awareness of Radu Lupu came when I read a review of a London all- Schubert recital by the critic and long- time colleague Joan Chissell, who 'hoped that when he next visited these shores, he would give us some of Schubert's substance as well as his shadows.' This reservation (one of very few) hinted at a mystical quality and, for others, the 'playing of an anchorite in communion with the eternal verities.' That such characteristics should make Lupu the winner of no less than three international competitions tells you of a calibre far from a more familiar, prize-winning virtuosity. Lupu, contradicting his own sad lament, 'I have no technique,' was an inclusive master, as much in the physically demanding (his repertoire included Prokofiev's Second Concerto and the Liszt Sonata) as in the intimate and confidential. And again, regarding the competition arena, it is worth noting that Alicia de Larrocha, a jury member at the Van Cliburn, told of her dread that Lupu would not be given first prize. His subsequent triumph hardly erased her fears, and she never again served on a competition jury. At Leeds, Fanny Waterman, as chairman of the jury, felt compelled to overlook the rules, asking her co-jurors, after Lupu was not admitted to the finals, 'I don't know whether any of you are interested in artistry of the highest order, but I would strongly advise you to think again.' She threatened to resign if her view was not considered (she was not called Field-Marshal Fanny' for nothing!) and Lupu's victory entirely vindicated her law-breaking. Thus, Lupu's career was launched by an intense publicity wholly alien to his reclusive nature. He was essentially a private person in a public career.

    An early meeting with Lupu came at a later Leeds Competition when he exclaimed in wonder over Mitsuko Uchida's all-Chopin semi-final recital ('I wish I could play Chopin Etudes like that'). Still later, he beckoned to me at the Festival Hall during a series of Mozart Piano Concertos played by Daniel Barenboim. The first of these had been memorable, but the second was a sad let down. 'Bryce, you come here. You like? You don't like, good!' Then there was the occasion when I was invited by Decca to a recording session, supposedly of Mozart Sonatas. I sat with the producer, the scores laid out before us, only to hear Lupu launch into the opening of the Brahms F minor Sonata with an awe-inspiring strength and boldness. We quickly swept the Mozart scores from view and listened in astonishment. Lupu's reaction at the end, 'that was very good,' came as a still further surprise, given his more customary gloom. This performance was issued unedited and ranks among the greatest of all recordings of this daunting masterpiece. I later chose it as the most outstanding performance of the Brahms on the BBC's 'Building a Library.'

   Alas, such glory was short lived. In common with Schnabel, Clifford Curzon and Myra Hess Lupu came to dread the recording studio, seeing it as an artificial medium, reducing something living and breathing to a fly in amber, its permanence haunting you with its faults. He would surely have sympathised with Curzon's delight in live performances 'which disappear like an imprint on water,' and attempts to lure him back in the studio changed from infrequent success to total failure. As with Curzon I did my best to convince him, but to no avail. I told him of my love for his last recording, of Schumann's' Humoresque, but no, he was not happy, indeed, he would like to see all his recordings on a bonfire. He further added, 'Decca are very good to me considering I do nothing for them.' Decca wrote to him in desperation asking, 'what can we do for you?' A literally chilling and idiosyncratic reply followed, ' I have put your letter in the fridge.'

   All of which makes the discovery of recordings taken from the 1969 Leeds Competition and from Aldburgh, Stuttgart, Tokyo and Bristol all the more valuable, particularly when they include music by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy absent from Lupu's officially sanctioned discs Poetic and pianist refinement could surely go no further in Lupu's Mozart Sonata in C, K330, emerging like music before the Fall, while in his beloved Schubert, the Impromptus, opus 90(a last minute alteration from the G major Sonata) you imagine his audience's awe as he drew them into a seraphic world, his pearling grace in the cascades of Nos 2 and 4, his unforgettable confirmation of the G flat Impromptu's sublimity. In Bach's 'Italian' Concerto he is as sturdy and direct (though with a joyously bounding finale) as he is fragile and elusive in two Debussy Preludes, in 'Les sons et les parfums tournant dans l'air du soir' and 'Les collines d'Anacapri.' Then there is his Chopin, and the two opus 27 Nocturnes, a wonder of quasi-operatic beauty in the D flat, austere and powerfully dramatic in the central tumult of the C sharp minor. Most of all there is the Liszt Sonata, grand, imperious and poetic to the core. Here he is as much a master of rhetorical stress as he is of the slow descending scales that form the Sonata's nodal and expressive centre. He may momentarily over-reach himself in the octave blaze before the coda, but the end is a wonder of poise, in music once described as 'full of glassy sighs and muffled threats.'

   Radu Lupu's was a unique voice, remembered in his all too few recordings (but with this surprise addition). His repertoire, far wider than is commonly supposed, included music by Franck, Bartok, Enesco and Janacek. But it was increasingly devoted to Mozart, Beethoven Schubert and Brahms. His last known performance was of Brahms Intermezzo opus 117 No 1, music of an autumnal introspection that confirmed Lupu as 'a lyricist in a thousand.'


Bryce Morrison