How we made records with Radu Lupu

How we made records with Radu Lupu

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

April 20, 2022

Michael Haas remembers the trouble and thrills of working with his first artist at Decca:

Around 1980, I was entrusted with my first recording as producer: Radu Lupu and Schubert. It was an insane idea from the Great-and-Good of Decca who obviously wanted me to sink or swim. Thinking back to these sessions in Kingsway Hall in Central London, I wonder how I didn’t sink….

I also only had myself to blame for letting everyone at Decca know that of all the Decca pianists, Lupu was the one I most admired. Unknown to me, nobody else at Decca wanted to work with him. He was notoriously difficult, neurotic, insecure and in a constant state of frustration. In my ignorance, I only believed my job to be spotting fluffed notes, marking them in the score and doing a retake. Fluffed notes were the least of Lupu’s concerns. They usually began with the piano and the Steinway technician filing down or administering a special liquid to hammers in order to equalise tone, brightness, dullness of each key. Lupu would play something and then ask, “is the F# too bright? I’ll play it again!” The technician would go back into the studio and spend the next 30 minutes with the guts of the piano on his lap.

As someone interested in the piano-esque part of piano playing, I was fascinated by his passage work – perfectly even and articulated while at the same time gliding from pitch to pitch like a singer. How he did it was his secret. (“You like good articulation? Listen to Perahia!”) Murray Perahia was Lupu’s secret rival, though one whom Lupu admired more than others. His only other comment to me regarding other pianists was András Schiff – “the only young one of any interest” he once stated dryly. I then worked with Schiff and pushed for Decca to sign him, which it did and we went on to record Bach and Mozart together. But there was a difference. There was something narcissistic about Schiff’s playing and his interpretative ideas. Lupu was anything but a narcissist. Lupu had a total command of structure and though he was constantly fretting about it, an astonishing technical command of the instrument. But it was this sense of architecture that made him different and explained why he hated recording….

Read on here.


  • Hilary says:

    the only filmed interview with Radu Lupu occurs at 6:07 . :

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Many thanks to Michael Haas for this most interesting text and, most of all, for all the precious recordings he produced with Radu Lupu and other great artists. Mr. Haas is right:

      And yet: no matter how good the Lupu recordings are, Lupu live was the real deal. I couldn’t agree more.

      Many thanks to Hillary for the above link to the Leeds competition, which includes not only a young Radu Lupu, but many other familiar faces: a younger Mitsuko Uchida, and an octogenarian Nadia Boulanger, and, of course, a young Murray Perahia, deservedly winning the first prize. Also a middle aged Ingrid Haebler: what has happened to her? I haven’t heard anything new about Haebler in decades.

  • Franz says:

    There is no Lupu Schubert Kingsway recording from 1980 or 1981. He might be recalling the Jan. 1979 sessions for the A-Minor Sonata (and the 1815 E-Major), which needed two engineers.

    • Michael Haas says:

      in that case you’re correct, it would have been 1979 – the release was a couple of years later as Lupu was always slow to release his recordings and his Decca contract gave him the final authority over release.

  • Miv Tucker says:

    His recording of the Schubert Impromptus is sublime: I’ve never heard it played better. I’ve had that recording in one format or another for forty years, and I never tire of listening to it, especially Op 90 no 4 in A-flat Major.

  • Jobim75 says:

    An amazing post letting us be privileged witnesses. I will not hear a Lupus record the same way. About concert, fluffed notes there were, but they didn’t really matter, like with Annie Fisher or late Nikolayev lives.

  • No Comment says:

    “There was something narcissistic about Schiff’s playing” … oh yes! I want to add: not only about his playing.
    PS: Haas’ notes are wonderful.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    It would be fascinating to hear (or read) what Lupu considered “too Brendelian” about an aspect of a take he rejected.