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On the Aisle



Carnegie Hall: Radu Lupu & Daniel Barenboim

By Philip Anson / November 27, 2000
On the Aisle

Daniel Barenboimís ongoing Perspectives Series at Carnegie Hall offers a total of 16 concerts of his own devising spread over two years. The latest instalment was a four hand piano recital on Nov. 27, 2000, with Barenboim and Romanian pianist Radu Lupu.

Commercially, it was a big success. Not only was the hall sold out but the stage was covered with spectators, leaving only a narrow path for the pianists to enter and exit. The concertís drawing power can be attributed to the two stars, Barenboim and Lupu (each with is own distinct following), as well as the accessible all-Schubert program.

The pianists sat side by side on two chairs and switched positions for each of the three pieces. For the opening Variations on an Original Theme in A-flat minor, D. 813 (1824), Barenboim took the top of the keyboard. In this role, he was the designated leader, and Lupu watched him closely. The rather flimsy work has no gripping merit and Barenboim seemed fully occupied sight reading the music in front of him. He ended each variation with the same emphatic flourish, as if to compensate for previous blandness.

For Schubertís Fantasie in F minor, D. 940 (1828), Lupu took the top, and suddenly the music came alive. He produced a gorgeously resonant tone and, unlike Barenboim, he played from inside the music. When the two pianists echoed each other in repeated passages, Lupu impressed one as the more sensitive performer.

After the intermission, Barenboim again had the upper hand for the "Grand Duo" Sonata in C major, D. 812 (1824). In the opening Allegro, Barenboim sounded uncertain of what he was trying to do. One had the uncomfortable impression he was just sight reading, banging out the music but never probing deeper or sustaining a premeditated line. Of course, this music is "meant to be played rather than listened to", as the New York Times critic noted. And if one must listen, then a small salon is the right place, not the vast expanses of 3000-seat Carnegie Hall.

The Times also noted that occasionally "the thickness of four busy hands at work was near impenetrable." Barenboim and Lupu are both in their mid-fifties, and are both major label recording stars. Yet when placed side by side, Barenboim came off as merely the efficient sidekick. The public would have been better served if Lupu had the top part in every piece. But that wasnít Barenboimís perspective, alas.

The next Barenboim Perspective concert will be a solo recital on Nov. 28, 2000.

> Carnegie Hall


(c) La Scena Musicale 2001 and Philip Anson