A young pianist named Eric Lu played a recital in Wigmore Hall, London. (See the recital here.) He is an American, born and raised in Massachusetts. Naturally, he went to the New England Conservatory—specifically, its prep school. He later enrolled in the Curtis Institute, down in Philadelphia.
What caught my attention, I think, is that Lu won the Leeds competition. He won it in 2018, at age twenty. “Leeds” is a name that is somewhat romantic in my mind. I’ll tell you why.
I first heard of that city—in West Yorkshire, England—when I was a kid in the 1970s. Murray Perahia had won its piano competition. Now, Leeds is no one’s idea of a romantic city, as I understand it. (I’ve never been there.) But “Leeds” stood out to me, way back then: a name associated with one of the best pianists any of us had ever heard, young though he may have been.
Enough of my Memory Lane. What about Eric Lu and his Wigmore recital? He played three canonical composers, starting with Mozart. His choice was Mozart’s Sonata in B flat, K. 333—which is quite possibly the best of them (the best of the Mozart piano sonatas). If you can play it, you can play practically anything, by anybody. Lu played it well.
In the first movement—Allegro—he employed a nice combination of the legato and the detached, the lyrical and the punchier. He played with maturity. And he took pleasure in his playing (which in turn communicates pleasure to the listener).
He missed notes, including one very strange one: he turned a D in the left hand into a D flat. But I rather enjoyed these missed notes: we were listening to something live and real, and not something doctored.
Mozart’s middle movement, Andante cantabile, was a little languid for my taste, but it was nicely sung, and, after a while, I bought it.
The closing movement—Allegretto grazioso—is interesting. I want to call it “Schubertian.” But Mozart came before Schubert, didn’t he? So, is Schubert Mozartean? In any case, this little rondo is simple and folk-like. It is not a barnstormer of an ending. Lu handled it with due character. He was neat, playful, and measured. This, again, showed maturity.
After his Mozart, Lu played Schubert, speaking of him: the Sonata in A minor, D. 784. Schubert wrote three sonatas in A minor, a key you will not find many sonatas in. (Mozart wrote a famous one.) D. 784 is the middle of the three. It’s strange, like so much of Schubert’s work. “Strange” was almost the highest encomium of Harold Bloom, the late literary critic. He meant “individual,” “unconventional,” “unexpected,” “original”—not from a cookie cutter.
There was a lot to admire in Eric Lu’s traversal of this sonata. I will make one criticism: The music sometimes calls for a warmer, richer, plusher sound than Lu gave. A more hymn-like sound. A thinner sound will convey the sense of the music—but not optimally.
Closing the program (not a long one) was Chopin—a piece with a long name: “Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E flat, Op. 22.” Eric Lu played it with dearness and lyricism. He demonstrated some beautiful light passagework. And, as in the Mozart—and the Schubert, for that matter—his affection for the music came through.
My complaint? I would have voted for more panache, more brilliance, more slancio. More abandon. Lu may have been too modest, too self-effacing, for his own good. A little showing off doesn’t hurt here. In fact, it’s called for.
I’m sure Chopin did—show off, that is. And ever so musically. Wouldn’t you have liked to hear it? Oh, my, yes.