This disc , well and consistently recorded in 1979 and 1976, concentrates mainly on the late piano works of opus 117-119 with the two middle period Rhapsodies acting as a musical entrée. The Rhapsodies are more energetic in nature while the later works are generally rather more contemplative in nature.
Radu Lupu's style of piano p[laying tends to favour the more thoughtful aspects of any composer, be they Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert or Brahms, and the more extrovert sides of those composers is not emphasised. Consequently there is a considerable difference in the two Rhapsodies as played by Lupu and as played by Bishop Kovacevich for example. Indeed, Kovacevich's recordings of these two pieces verges on the aggressive so outward going are they. This is a description that is most unlikely to ever be used when describing Lupu's music making. Thus in this case the opening Rhapsodies are given a quieter, more thoughtfully subdued performance than is often the case.
The later opus 117-119 pieces are a different matter altogether and it is here that Lupu's natural manner is particularly well suited. The three gentle 'cradle songs,' as Brahms referred to his opus 117 pieces, are well matched by the tonal ambiguities of the opus 119 set. That same ambiguity also applies to the opus 118 set although these matters of key are of less import to the listener perhaps than they might be to the musicologist or the performer. Nevertheless it is true, even to the listener, that the over-riding character of these final pieces, many of which are intermezzos, is more reflective than the various sets of variations or the sonatas from much earlier in Brahms' output. The final Rhapsody brings the recital to a close with a final burst of virtuosic passion more akin to the two Rhapsodies that open the disc.
This is a musically satisfying disc that works well as a complete program as well as being a perfect match for Lupu's style of playing. I would suggest that it therefore makes an attractive proposition as a potential purchase.
Radu Lupu, Rumanian piano wizard, may not have been as prolific as Richter, Horowitz or Rubinstein, but his genius can be spoken of in the same breath. It is difficult to express in words the effect Lupu`s limpid yet muscular playing has on me, but whether it`s the Schubert Impromptus, a Beethoven concerto or these wondrous pieces by Brahms, he plays each with absolute authority, spontaneity and a magic all his own. This is a well-chosen programme, starting with the Two Rhapsodies written in 1879 when Brahms was 46, and including also the later Three Intermezzos, Six Piano Pieces as well as the Four Piano Pieces and a final Rhapsody. All are models of a kind of controlled, even calm, expressiveness that tends to be Brahms`s calling card. On the one hand this is Romantic music as surely as that of Liszt or his great friend Schumann, but it is perhaps less unfettered than those two more extravagant, heart-on-sleeve arch-Romantics. I used to cordially despise Brahms - what did people see in him! - until one day I played some of his chamber music, then I thought I`d try the symphonies again...and I was hooked. It was a painless step to discovering the relatively small but delightful, one might say perfect, oeuvre of his pieces for solo piano. Pointless to single out particular pieces or moments from this flawlessly executed, generous 71-minute selection, as they are all played with the kind of sober lyricism this lovely music demands. Brahms rarely composed music for show-offs to play, and in Radu Lupu he has found an ideal interpreter. The booklet is well put together, with interesting sleevenotes in three languages, a terrific photo of Brahms on the back, and a fascinating drawing of the composer`s birthplace in Hamburg, a six-storey ramshackle tenement-house that looks like it must have been both tough and fun to live in! Radu Lupu`s few recordings are all treasurable, this being a jewel in his no doubt reluctantly worn crown.
These are classic recordings in fine seventies Decca sound. Radu Lupu seems to get exactly the right tone of intimacy needed in the late pieces and has the power and the depth for the larger-boned Rhapsodies. Get this ,and his recording of the Schubert Impromptus. You won't be disappointed!