First of all the tone Eric Lu produced was luminous, the articulation spellbinding and exciting, the legato and bel canto desperately moving. Notes were articulated as flowing water or as 'strings of pearls'.
This remarkably young pianist of only 17 had just come from the US after winning the 1st Prize in the US National Chopin Piano Competition in Miami. He was born in the US to Chinese and Taiwanese parents. It is held every five years and the rules reflect closely the regulations and requirements of the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw which will take place in October 2015. The winner is automatically accepted into the Warsaw Competition. We were full of anticipation which was more than realised.
He chose to perform the great and demanding cycle of Chopin Preludes Op.28. I could not possibly give an account of each prelude nor would it be desirable in review of this nature.
During the Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival there is always a 'Duszniki Moment' that is unique. One can never anticipate when it might occur or what nature it might take, be it pianistic, scandalous or highy amusing. But it will occur...this was the moment for me but will there be another?
First of all the tone Eric Lu produced was luminous, the articulation spellbinding and exciting, the legato and bel canto desperately moving. Notes were articulated as flowing water or as 'strings of pearls'. Even if this phrase smacks of cliche, this is what he did - every note of the score fully articulated. The reminiscence of a Horowitz sound if not a Horowitz temperament seemed inescapable. One could hear a pin drop in the dworek. The playing was breathtaking and really of the highest order of finger dexterity. In the background I could hear the refined sound world produced by one of his teachers, Dan Thai Son (and you know my opinion of this great artist).
It would have course been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his musical and cultural ambience (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces). Although it is now well established as a complete work, a masterpiece of integrated ‘fragments’ (in the nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of feeling and tonal climate but ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ as Andre Gide asked. I think it unnecessary and superflous to actually answer this question. We must to turn to Chopin’s love of Bach to at least partially understand them (he took an edition of the ‘48’ to Mallorca where he completed the Preludes). I think it was Anton Rubinstein who first performed them as a cycle but I stand to be corrected on this.
The sound world of each as Lu produced it was simply stunning and breathtaking. A 'leaping to the feet' moment. Some performers of the cycle (Sokolov, Argerich, the greatest historically to my mind by Alfred Cortot) give one the impression of an integrated 'philosophy' or spiritual narrative which I felt was lacking here. Such comparisons are desperately unfair and invidious to level at an 17 year old with his magnificently precocious talent and pianistic future ahead. Depth with growing maturity is inevitable in life as we all know... As always I felt the magnificent bass resonance in the left hand of many of the Preludes on the Steinway in the small dworek, occasionally unbalanced the musical writing. This does not detract from the Lu's amazing execution. It is just that some of their 'Prelude egos' were inflated rather than retaining the intimacy which waxes and wanes so fleetingly and poetically until that final passionate utterance in D minor of No. 24, traditionally the 'key of death'. The last three notes (the lowest D on the piano) Lu played with his fist which for me visually gave expression expression to the lines by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night which could apply to the spirit of the cycle as a whole:
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
They were written in a period of great emotional upheaval for Chopin. I have always felt a Pleyel in the right hands is the perfect instrument for a poetic rather than virtuosic interpretation of the Preludes. After all he had a Pleyel pianino sent to Valldemossa. Not a popular manner of rendering them....