Radu Lupu at Carnegie Hall – January 24, 2013

I attended Radu Lupu’s piano recital at Carnegie Hall last night. This was a long evening. The program started (late as per Carnegie’s custom these days) at about 8:10 pm, and wasn’t over, including the single brief encore, until close to 10:30 pm. I have no objection to longer-than-usual piano recitals, but I found this one a bit wearying.
And that was because Mr. Lupu’s program seemed to me to be too much focused on soft, gentle playing (suitable for the main part for the works he selected), so soft and gentle that I found it difficult to sustain focus through to the end.
He began with four impromptus by Franz Schubert that were grouped together and published posthumously as Op. 142 (D. 935 in the modern catalogue of the composer’s works). These are late (in the context of Schubert’s brief career, given his premature demise), predominantly gentle pieces. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the first two. The pianist didn’t seem “settled” and there were some awkward-sounding pauses sapping the music of continuity. In the third piece, however, a set of variations on a Bb major theme recognizable from the Rosamunde incidental music, Lupu seemed to hit his groove, and I found this piece very satisfying, as well as the final piece, which projected some of the energy that might have improved the first two.
His second selection was the rarely performed Prelude, Chorale & Fugue by Cesar Franck. I found his performance of this to be ideal, freely-flowing and full of color and life, magically so with the intermediate chorale section and even more magically when the chorale theme emerges out of the fugal play in the finale.
After intermission, he played the entire Book II of Claude Debussy’s Preludes. Here is where the program had undue length, and where I found it difficult to maintain my concentration. The preludes create varying moods, but the overall sensibility in Lupu’s performance is restrained, calm, generally quiet – and this stretched over 40minutes, with only a few contrasting faster moments, seemed to suspend time. I doubt that anybody today produces a more beautiful tone from the piano, however. I would have preferred a slightly shorter program on a weeknight, or perhaps a 7:30 start to keep it from running quite so late into the night.
Carnegie Hall did what they could (ringing the bell and projecting the request to silence cellphones) before the second part, but still there were at least two negligent audience members who left their cell-phone ringers on resulting in erruptions of distracting noise during the Debussy preludes. We have a city ordinance making this an offense. I wonder whether Carnegie could be moved to seek enforcement against offenders?

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