Eric Lu’s performance at the Vancouver Playhouse yesterday reminded me of what Leschetizky said to Artur Schnabel, “You will never be a pianist, you are a musician.” I would only amend that statement by saying that Lu is also an exceptional pianist, but an even finer musician.
The recital opened with Robert Schumann’s gem of a miniature, the Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18, a performance that betrayed the luminous sound Lu drew from the Steinway. The final section of the work, Zum Schluss (m. 209) was achingly beautiful.
I am grateful to Lu for playing, with great inspiration, Schumann’s relatively rarely performed Waldszenen, Op. 82. Once again, he drew us into the composer’s most intimate thoughts and emotions, at the same time highlighting the individual character of each piece. For me, the delicacy he brought to Einsame Blumen, as well as the almost psychedelic colours he painted in sound, the famous Vogel als Prophet, were particularly endearing. And how movingly he played the final Abschied, taking us through a wondrous sonic journey to the two soft final chords.
The first half of the concert ended with a rousing but thoroughly musically satisfying reading of Brahms’s Theme und Variation, a transcription (written for Clara Schumann) of the movement from his String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18. Lu managed the no small feat of threading his way through Brahms’s texture with astounding clarity and beauty.
Lu began the second half of the concert with Schubert’s heavenly Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 3, beguiling us again with the beauty of his sound, making the long melodic line float, and allowing us to hear the harmonic progression of the arpeggiated accompaniment.
The young artist’s rendition of Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35 was truly overwhelming. He managed to highlight the absolute wildness of the opening theme, which makes the contrast with the lyrical second theme even more stark. Throughout the movement, Lu played the music in the manner of a titanic struggle. He played the opening repeated-note figure of the second with great weight, giving this opening a real sense of occasion and a feeling of substance. The waltz-like second subject once again reminded us of Lu’s gift for lyricism. In the funeral march, the gloom of the A section was, under Lu’s hands, not dispelled by even the incredible beauty of the D-flat Major section. Indeed, to my ears, he played this section not with a sense of consolation, but more with a feeling of shared grief. The petrifying final movement was indeed frightening. Two measures before the final outburst, Lu dramatically slowed the momentum of the music, giving it an almost unbearable tension, making the final B-flat minor chord all the more dramatic.
Lu’s single encore of Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15, reminded me of pianist Byron Janis’ words about Chopin music, that it “pierces our ears and breaks our hearts.” From the lyrical opening, to the funereal middle section, and to the truncated return of the opening theme, Lu infused the music not only with beauty, but also with the logic of its arch-like structure.
Hearing Lu’s playing yesterday, I had the feeling that he was allowing us into his very private world with his music making. I felt that I was eavesdropping on someone playing through an open window. Indeed, Lu’s music-making betrays a maturity and sensitivity well beyond his years. With his luminous playing at yesterday’s concert, I felt that we had in our midst, an old soul, one who illuminated the wonders and beauty of this timeless music that he shared with us. Eric Lu had indeed given us a precious gift with his playing – a window, a glimpse into his inner world.