Uitvoerende Kunstenaars




                           By Dalila Poch


Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil and Radu Lupu


Great piano playing cannot be described. At best it can be evoked. Its greatness is manifested in terms so subtle that words are effectively disabled.


Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950)


“A chosen instrument lent to the world by God for too brief a space” was how Dinu Lipatti, born in Bucharest on March 19, 1917, was once described by the man responsible for all his Columbia 78 r.p.m. recordings, the late producer Walter Legge.

This phrase grew from Lipatti’s own remark as he listened to Beethoven’s Serioso string quartet nr. 11 in f minor op. 95 shortly before he died: “To write music like that you must be a chosen instrument of God”.

The date was December 2, 1950, when after a miraculous summer’s reprieve resulting from injections of the newly discovered drug, cortisone (whose heavy costs were met by devoted friends including Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Münch and Igor Stravinsky), the leukaemia overshadowing the last six years of his thirty-three years finally struck him down.

Son of wealthy, music-loving parents, Lipatti was irresistibly drawn to the keyboard even before learning his notes. His earliest teachers were Milhail Jorda and Florica Musicescu, both of the Bucharest Conservatoire, from which he gained his diploma at fourteen. No less gifted as a composer, he won the Georges Enescu prize for a Tzigane suite two years later.

When placed only second in the Vienna International Piano Competition  in 1934 he was immediately invited by Alfred Cortot, who resigned from the jury in protest as an indignant jury-member, to study in Paris, where he remained until 1939 working not only with Cortot and his assistant Yvonne Lefébure, but also the much cherished Nadia Boulanger for composition.

After the World War II years in Romania, Lipatti and his pianist-fiancée Madeleine Cantacuzene, finally made their escape, via Scandinavia, to Switzerland, where from 1944-1949 he held the highest piano professorship at the Geneva Conservatoire.

Though frailty of health prevented far-flung tours, concerts in Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Holland and Italy found him increasingly recognized as a ’chosen’ artist by reason of an inner spiritual grace illuminating his every finely controlled feat of finger, every variation of touch, every subtle nuance of colour.

In 1946 he signed an exclusive recording contract with British Columbia and worked regularly with producer Walter Legge. In 1950 he gave his last recital at the Besançon Festival playing music closest to his heart: Mozart, Bach, Schubert and Chopin.

No-one more consciously analysed, dissected, indeed prepared, whatever he undertook. Yet always his playing had the limpid freshness and radiance of an early morning in Spring. To a younger generation never privileged to have heard him on the platform, his recordings will help to explain why his name is now legendary.

Lipatti was a transitional pianist. His tragically short life came at mid-point of the twentieth century, when propeller planes were turning into jets, when crackly 78s were being smoothed into LP’s, and, more to the point, when a flamboyant, individualistic, carefree approach to playing and recording was changing into a modern, clean-clear style.

A ‘record’ was starting to mean a setting in stone of an interpretation rather than a snapshot of one day in the studio. Glenn Gould later took this to its logical conclusion and stopped playing concerts altogether; Lipatti in contrast was playing in public up to the end with the last ounce of his decreasing strength/

Yet among the many gemstones of Lipatti’s cherishable output there are two snapshots that seem to be among the greatest tracks of recorded music history. The first are Chopin’s 14 Waltzes, together with the Mazurka in c shapp minor op. 50/3, the Barcarolle and the Nocturne in D flat op. 27/2, the other is his performance of Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso. Both are supreme examples of how spontaneity, flair, polish and elegance can meet in a moment of pianistic genius.


Essential discography


The art of Dinu Lipatti. EMI Japan TOCE 7383/90 (8 cd’s).


Dinu Lipatti. EMI 767.163-2 (5 cd’s).


Icon: Dinu Lipatti – the master pianist. Warner 207318-2 (7 cd’s).


Dinu Lipatti, a portrait. Membran 221761-350 (4 cd’s).


Chopin 14 Waltzes etc. EMI 566.904-2.


Ravel: Alborada del gracioso; Miroirs. EMI 763.038-2.


Clara Haskil (1895-1960)


In many respects, Haskil’s life reads like a fairy tale – but Grimm more than Disney. Born in Romania in 1895 into a Sephardic (Spanish) Jewish family, she showed her prodigious gifts at an early age, mastering the keyboard without difficulty and memorising whole pieces after a single hearing.

At five she heard a Mozart sonata and was instantly able to play it back, in any key. At six she was sent to Vienna to study with Richard Robert (who also taught George Szell and Rudolf Serkin). At eight she made her Viennese debut in Mozart;s A major concerto no. 23 KV 488, which was to remain in her central repertoire for the rest of her life, as indeed was Mozart.

After four years of Vienna, she entered the Paris Conservatoire, where she passed into the class of Alfred Cortot, graduating in 1910, now aged fifteen, having been awarded the premier prix by a star-studded jury. A year later Ferruccio Busoni heard her play his titanic arrangement of Bach’s d minor Chaconne and invited her to become his pupil in Berlin.

Her mother, however, felt she was too young. But age was not the only factor. At thirteen, Clara, always physically frail, had been diagnosed with scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine. It was later recommended she be hospitalised for four years, effectively immobilised in a body cast. She remained in pain for the rest of her life.

On her release she was caught up in the tumult of the First World War – hardly the moment to relaunch a career so cruelly nipped in the bud. In 1918 her mother died. Not until 1921 did Clara return to the life of a performer, now further burdened by greatly intensified stage-fright.

The list of her collaborators and champions reads like a Who’s Who of the musical elite, including Pablo Casals, Eugène Ysaÿe, Alfred Cortot, George Enescu, Dinu Lipatti and Leopold Stokowski (who pronounced her by far the most gifted of all her contemporaries). Yet her career she deserved continually eluded her.

Her concerts were often illustrious but strangely few, and she depended for her modest livelihood on the generosity of friends and patrons. In 1942 she suffered a further physical setback: a tumor on the optic nerve whose removal left her with chronic headaches in addition to her unremitting back pain.

Not until her fortieth year id Haskil make her first recording (and she was fifty-eight when she bought the first piano she had ever owned). She signed her first official recording contract at fifty-two. Had she died before that, we might scarcely have heard of her; she owes her enduring celebrity almost entirely to the last fifteen years of her life, when to her considerable bewilderment she became a living legend.

Haskil was notoriously dissatisfied with most of her performances, hence, in part, the number of duplications in her recorded repertoire. Her repeated returns – to the Mozart d minor concerto, for instance –make for fascinating listening however.

Excepted from the normal litany of complaints were the recordings she made with violinist Arthur Grumiaux near the end of her life: these she actually liked. Posterity has agreed fully with her. Her last concert was with Grumiaux, playing Mozart sonatas on the night before she died, aged sixty-six, December seventh 1960 of the wounds she got from a fall on the steps of Brussels railway station.  

Looking back we can see how unique this pianist was. At a time when a relative minimum of Mozart’s concertos were known to most pianists, and still fewer to the public, Haskil was one of his most dedicated champions, widely regarded as the definitive Mozartian of her generation. Quite possibly she came closer to duplicating Mozart’s own playing style than any pianist before or since.

But though she excelled in the Romantics – Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Scriabin, Brahms (the second concertro, no less), Rachmaninov and Falla, she was essentially a Classicist.

Clara Haskil who’s subtlety, refinement and apparently infinite control my well have been matched by Mozart and Chopin alone. The evidence surfaces recurrently, though not entirely consistently, throughout her work. If the playing itself is ultimately indescribable, its effect on listeners is not. Of course the Haskil  literature is full of the usual, sincere clichés. Words like magnificent, glorious, thrilling, even ravishing, haunting and exquisite have repeatedly been applied to to a plethora of very different pianists. But the vocabulary surrounding Haskil’s art bespeaks something altogether out of the ordinary, even amongst great pianists: “the perfect Clara Haskil” (Rudolf Serkin); a “saint of the piano” (Joachim Kaiser); ‘the sum of perfection on earth” (Dinu Lipatti)… the list goes on. 


Essential discography


Clara Haskil Edition. Decca 478.2541 (17 cd’s).


Clara Haskil Philips recordings 1951-1960. Philips 475.7739 (7 cd’s).


Chopin, Mozart, Schumann, Falla. Philips 426.964-2 (4 cd’s).


Mozart: Piano concertos no. 20 in d-minor KV 466 and 24 in c-minor KV 491. With the Lamoureux orchestra, Igor Markevich. Philips 412.254-2, 416.478-2.


Mozart: Piano concertos no. 23 in A KV 488 and 24 in c KV 491 with the Vienna symphony orkchestra, Paul Sacher c.q. Bernhard Paumgartner. Naxos 9.80642.


Mozart: Violin sonatas in G KV 301, e KV 304, F KV 376, Bes KV 378, Bes KV 454 and A KV 526. With Arthur Grumiaux. Philips 412.253-2, 442.625-2 (5 cd’s)


Beethoven: Violin sonatas no. 1-10. With Arthur Grumiaux. Philips 442.625-2 (5 cd’s), 422.140-2 (3 cd’s).


Schumann: Piano concerto in a-minor op. 54; Kinderszenen op.15; Waldszenen op. 82; Abegg variations op. 1. With the Residentie orkest, Willem van Otterloo. Philips 420.851-2.


Radu Lupu (1945 - …..)


Few pianists have shown the bright and dark side of re-creative genius more poignantly than Radu Lupu. Universally admired for his matchless artistry he finds the exigencies of a modern concert pianist’s life often incompatible with musical quality. The supreme opposite to ‘have notes, will travel’ virtuoso, he has retreated from the limelight of his early celebrity, granting few interviews, and offering only the most selective number of concerts and recordings.

Radu Lupu was born in 1945 in Galati, started on his sixth with serious piano playing after getting his first lessons from Lia Busuioceanu. He continued at the Bucharest Conservatoire with Florica Musicescu and Cella Delavrancea. In 1961 he went to the Moscow Conservatoire to finish his studies with Galina Eghyazarova, the famous Heinrich Neuhaus and Stanislav Neuhaus. After that he settled in London.

Like Martha Argerich, his dazzling but no less reclusive and enigmatic colleague, he might well claim that while he likes to play the piano, he does not like to be a pianist. Understandably, his appearances both in the concert hall and on disc are red-letter occasions in every musician’s calendar, relished as much for their rarity as for their unique calibre.

Once he was willing, if unhappy, to barnstorm with the best of them (though even then his performances of such daunting virtuoso fare as the Liszt first and the Prokofiev second concertos were blessed with all of his distinctive refinement).

Lupu turned increasingly to the great Viennese classic and romantic genius, to music which allowed his classic and romantic talent its truest outlet, to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms.

It seems that Radu Lupu lives in a totally different world from that of most performing musicians. At the moment he refuses to record and to allow microphones into his concerts; he also refuses to do ay form of publicity and it’s nearly impossible to tempt him to the concert hall.

‘Career’ means nothing to him, the only thing that matters, is the music. His interpretations seem to emerge from deep within him, his profound understanding and knowledge of the works he plays allied to an overwhelming emotional power. And the sounds he coaxes from the piano! Unbelievably beautiful he plays. What a pity that Radu Lupu is so self-critical.                                                                                                                                                                                  


Essential discography


Beethoven: Piano concertos nr. 1-5; Rondo’s op. 51 no. 1, 2; Piano sonata nr. 14 in cis op. 27/2 Mondschein, 8 in c Pathétique; 21 in C Waldstein;  Variations WoO 80 no. 1-32; Quintet for winds in Es op. 16. Israël philharmonic orchestra, Zubin Mehta c.q. Han de Vries (h), George Pieterson (cl), Brian Pollard (f) and Vicente Zarzo (hn). Decca 475.7065 (4 cd’s).


Brahms: Rhapsodies op. 79 no. 1, 2; Piano pieces op. 117 no. 1-3, op. 178 no. 1-6, op. 119 no. 1-4. Decca 417.599-2.


Mozart: Sonata for 2 piano’s in D KV 448; Schubert: Fantasy in f D. 940. With Murray Perahia. CBS MK 39511.


Schubert: Piano sonatas in A D. 664 and in Bes D. 960. Decca 440.295-02.


Schubert: Impromptu’s D. 899 no. 1-4; Impromptu’s D. 935 no. 1-4. Decca 460.975-2.


Schumann: Kreisleriana op. 16; Kinderszenen op. 15; Humoresque in Bes op. 20. Decca 440.496-2.