> BEETHOVEN Piano concerto 2 Lupu [PL]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major, Op 19 (1792) [27.35]
The Creatures of Prometheus: Ballet Music, Op 43 (1801) [47.24]
Radu Lupu (piano: Concerto only)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Zubin Mehta
ADD: recorded 1979 (Concerto) & 1969 (Prometheus)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 466 681-2 [74.59]

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 discretion.

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




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