Review: Eric Lu piano recital 

19-year-old pianist dazzles in APA-sponsored Grand Encounters

click to enlarge Pianist Eric Lu
  • Pianist Eric Lu

Hearing a wunderkind pianist not out of his teens playing at a level equal to a marquee musician famous the world over was a special treat late Sunday afternoon at Butler's Eidson-Duckworth Recital Hall. Eric Lu appeared here under the auspices of the American Pianists Association as the recently awarded winner of the Chopin Competition of Miami. The two sponsors, ours and theirs, collaborate with recitals of their prize winners performing here in the Grand Encounters series, and our APA Fellows performing there.

Lu chose his repertoire from Bach, Chopin and Schubert, beginning with the pleasantly lilting Barcarolle in F-Sharp, Op. 60, a sui generis work of Chopin; he wrote no other barcarolles. This one is filled with light charm, evoking a pleasant afternoon in a slow boat ride down a placid stream. Thus one could say Lu paddled as he pedaled, observing an ever shifting shore line.

In stark contrast, Lu's next offering was a sui generis work of Bach: his Overture in the French Style, BWV 831. Lasting half an hour, it borrows heavily from the mordant-laden (a brief trill opening nearly every measure) writing of Bach's French colleagues, such as Fran├žois Couperin. Bach, however takes Couperin's mordents and the French Baroque dance forms accompanying them and creates music of greater weight than anything Couperin left us. Lu takes a piece written for a two-manual harpsichord and makes it pianistic.

Next came Schubert's Sonata in A minor, D. 784, the middle one of three sonatas he left us in that key signature. It opens with a slow rocking figure that is an almost shocking reminder of Mahler's opening of his First Symphony's first and fourth movements. The comparison is timely because we'll be hearing the fourth movement of the Mahler next weekend, with the Honor Orchestra of America (America's best high-school players) under Larry Livingston, appended to an ISO classical concert.

After Schubert's first two movements, the finale opens with a flash of counterpoint, Lu unleashing his breath-taking virtuosity, his flying fingers snatching every note called for. This is faster than I've heard anyone else take this movement, and Lu made it convincing.

Lu shows this rapid finger work in the closing work, Chopin's Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22, earning him a standing ovation. To bring our audience's collective adrenalin back to normal, Lu offered Bach's Prelude in B Minor as arranged for keyboard by Alexander Siloti.

Throughout the program Lu brought us thoughtfully nuanced phrase shaping and dynamic control. A nine-foot grand piano makes almost too big a sound for the Eidson-Duckwell recital hall, which served to render Lu's loudest passages to sound just a little bangy, an effect perhaps made worse by Lu's slightly over pedaling these intervals. It would be instructive to hear him play in the acoustically drier Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center. March 6

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Tom Aldridge

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