Janacek: In the Mist
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 23 in F minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata"Schubert: Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959
Just when I was getting ready to give up on ever hearing Radu Lupu live, the Washington Performing Art Society finally came to the rescue and included him in its 2009-2010 season. This is how yesterday the audience at the Strathmore music center got to enjoy the distinguished Romanian pianist for the first time in 16 years in his first Washington recital ever (well, sort of). So never mind the whirlwind business trip to Tucson I was just coming from (I do have to say, however, that five plane rides in three days, not to mention spending half a Sunday waiting in a terminal, is a bit much) and never mind the couple of hours of sleep (again!) the previous night, never even mind what was on the program, the master was in town and not much else mattered.
The opening piece by Janacek was inconspicuous in its melancholy, highlighting the general decline of old age that the Czech composer was experiencing at the time. By the same token, it set the tone for an evening of understated but emotionally charged music.
Beethoven was also in declining health when he wrote his Appasionata sonata, and this was a state that he was obviously not taking to well. Both ethereal and tormented, it is a score with symphonic ambition that never fails to move the listener. Radu Lupu kept a minimalist approach to this piece as well and delivered a rich and subtle performance.
I have somehow never understood all the fuss about Schubert's symphonies, but I've always found his chamber music simply divine. So it was with a certain dose of excitement that I was getting ready for the sonata he wrote during the last year of his too short life. Here again, the sentiment of irreversible decline was discreetly but powerfully present, and the dreadful psychological and physical agony the composer was going through at the time was for sure palpable, but never blatantly displayed. In yet another example of his mastery of his instrument, Lupu gracefully expressed feelings of isolation, unquietness and regret in a truly beautiful interpretation of a timeless work.
As the audience sounded determined not to let him go, he came back with a lovely A Major Intermezzo by no other than Brahms, a last, but by no means least, exercise in delicacy and restraint.