This disc is one of four releases on the budget-priced Eloquence label
containing Radu Lupu’s 1970s recordings of all five Beethoven Piano
Concertos. Lupu’s performances were widely acclaimed (though not at
the top of anyone’s tree, so far as I can recall) when they first appeared,
and it is good to see them back in circulation. They were taped variously
between 1971 (No 3) and 1980 (No 1, the only digital recording
in the set) and, with the exception of No 3 (in which Lawrence Foster
conducts the London Symphony Orchestra), featured the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta. In fact Eloquence proudly proclaim
these (with their prominent photo-logo of Mehta) to be part of their
‘Zubin Mehta Edition’, thereby attributing (by implication) the lion’s
share of the honours to the conductor rather than the soloist!
The complete series is gathered together as follows.
Nos 1 and 4 share one (well-filled) disc: 466 707-2. The rest are
coupled with a variety of other Beethoven orchestral or piano music.
No 2, which we’re considering here, includes (very generously) an almost
complete Prometheus. No 3 (fittingly, but far from generously)
is followed by the 32 Variations on an Original Theme, on 466 690-2.
No 5, the so-called ‘Emperor’, is topped up with a short (but agreeably
self-contained) recital comprising the two Op 51 Rondos, and the two
two-movement Sonatas of Op 49: 466 689-2.
The two missing pieces from this list are the so-called
‘Triple Concerto’ (Op 56 in C major, for piano, violin, cello and
orchestra) and the ‘Choral Fantasy’ (Op 80 in C minor, for piano,
chorus and orchestra). So far as I am aware, Lupu has not recorded these,
but readers wishing to complete their collection may wish to note that
(very usefully) they can be found together on the Eloquence (Philips)
label – the number is 464 368-2. Arrau is the pianist in the former,
with Szeryng and Starker, and conducted by Inbal: the latter comes from
the complete Brendel-Haitink set.
The Second Concerto actually predates the First (a
trick Chopin was to play on us many years later…) and, with its graceful
and distinctly classical manners, belongs firmly on the Eighteenth Century
side of the 1800 boundary. Here, on this disc, it receives a fresh and
sympathetic performance. Unsurprisingly, Lupu plays with all his usual
subtlety and delicacy – his ruminative slow movement is especially persuasive.
But he also plays with authority and incisiveness where appropriate
– as in his oddly discursive first movement cadenza. Mehta is a trifle
heavy-handed in the tuttis, but he generally accompanies with
What makes this issue especially attractive for me
is its coupling: a substantial (albeit incomplete) selection of items
from the Prometheus ballet, which is consistently appealing.
The tune in track 13, for example, is unforgettable – at least as memorable
as the finale’s theme, familiar from the variation-finale of the Eroica
Symphony, and the not-so-well-known Eroica Variations, Op 35,
for piano. Track 10 – if you’ve not come across it before – is a real
ear-opener: a solo harp (nicely resonant and prominent in this recording)
conversing with a variety of individual woodwind voices, to really charming
effect. The soloists here are obviously good players, though it ought
to be said that, elsewhere, standards of orchestral refinement and ensemble
precision are perhaps less than we have come to expect these days. Even
so, you can hear the smile on the players’ faces as they holiday their
way through this delightful score. The recording is a bit noisy (slight
hiss, with quite a lot of Israelites shuffling around…) but agreeably
full and resonant.
This disc is well worth anyone’s money.
Peter J Lawson