...it's hard to imagine a more touching and tenderly ruminating performance than the one heard on this occasion.
Eric Lu, the now 19-year-old fourth-prize laureate of the 2015 International Frederyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw, gave the season's final recital in Boston's Chinese Performing Arts Foundation concert series (13 May, Jordan Hall). Lu is still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (where he studies with Robert McDonald and Jonathan Biss), but he is already a serious, mature, and interesting musician. His performance of Chopin's Twenty-four Preludes Op. 28, which occupied the first half of his program, was superb. He moved with confident mastery through the immense variety of moods, from the simple unforced lyricism of the A Major and E-flat Major to the pessimism of the Preludes in A Minor and F Minor. In the remarkable D-flat Major piece, known as the "Raindrop" Prelude because of its repeated A-flats around which melody and accompaniment are woven, he made a listener aware of the way it foreshadows Ravel's "Le Gibet, " written 75 years later. In the C-Sharp Minor middle section, he also made one aware of how Chopin looks forward to Mussorgsky.
The suspicion that this anticipation of Mussorgsky suggested a talent for Russian music was confirmed after the interval by Lu's performance of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7. This was a terrific reading, especially interesting in the finale's astonishing toccata-like finale. Unlike most young virtuosos with remarkable equipment, Lu realized that the movement's excitement is not generated by sheer velocity, but by maintaining rhythmic accuracy and stability. Last season, when another gifted young pianist, Haochen Zhang, performed the same sonata, his breathlessly fast tempo in the finale outpaced the music. Lu's discipline permitted him to make the music sound unbelievably fast without being uncontrollably fast.
The Prokofiev was preceded by performances of two sad pieces, Mozart's A Minor Rondo K. 511 and Schubert's C Minor Impromptu D. 899. Lu's performances of the Mozart will probably attain a higher level of subtlety and refinement as he grows older, but it's hard to imagine a more touching and tenderly ruminating performance than the one heard on this occasion. It was playing that made a listener look forward to hearing Lu perform this composer's sonatas in the years to come.