Polonaise in C-sharp minor, Op.26/1; Waltzes – in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2 & in D-flat, Op.70/3; Nocturne in C-minor, Op.48/3
Piano Sonata in A-minor, K310
Piano Sonata in A, D959
Eric Lu (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 15 January, 2023
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Eric Lu doesn’t give much away in his performance style, which is formal and a bit stern, from a serious young man who would not look out of place as a fashion model. In interviews the 25-year-old – he won first prize and gold medal at the 2018 Leeds Competition – talks eloquently, with a cool, searching mind, and then he blows this seemingly neutral self-effacement apart with playing of high emotional intelligence, always geared to a connective and longer view, delivered by an unfussy, unflappable and prodigiously complete technique.
Lu also has good judgment, which was to the fore in his Chopin group. The start of the Polonaise was briefly assertive but quickly yielded to something more veiled, with a reticence that got under the skin of the piece. Then, in the familiar Waltz Op.64/2 he never forced the speed, sparing the music getting overloaded with gratuitous significance, and there was a similar beautifully crafted otherness to Op.70/3. The opening of the great C-minor Nocturne had a mesmerising stealth that made the stormy middle section sound particularly disturbed. This was highly accomplished Chopin-playing, with graded colours, a natural, song-like legato, effortlessly placed decorations and spread chords, unobtrusive pedaling, and an impressive repertoire of attack, all of it underpinned by a hint of steel.
Perhaps after the Chopin group he might have lightened up for his second work, but the Mozart not only showed where his approach to Chopin came from but also prepared the way for the Schubert. In the first movement of the Mozart, Lu went more for weight than high drama, emphasising the music’s intense tragedy, and played with a momentum that hinted at effort. The effect of Lu relaxing from tight rhetoric into ingratiating lyricism in the Andante maintained the mood, rendering the unfolding aria more and more remote. Trills and other decorations curled out of the music with subtle expressivity, nothing to do with display, the spell then broken with an obsessive Finale.
There were both breadth and terseness in the Mozart, factors that became even more pronounced in the Schubert, along with engaging flashes of personality. Like Radu Lupu, Lu sits on a chair, as though to let it take some of the strain. This was a big performance, just over forty minutes, with Lu throwing a lot of power and impressive volume at the first movement, particularly the scorching development. At the core of his reading, though, was his treatment of the Andantino, withdrawn at first then leading almost reluctantly into an almost psychotic version of the fantasy-like middle section, with destabilising results that cast a long shadow over the rest of the Sonata. Frankly, I was amazed by Lu’s imagination and depth throughout this complex work. He has obviously thought long and hard about it, but it was a compelling element of risk-taking that kept you gripped.
There were three encores – Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ Prelude, slow-moving with heavy precipitation; a dazzling and witty display of virtuosity in the wonderful Etude Op.10/8; and signing off with ‘Abschied’ from Schumann’s Waldszenen. At which point Lu cracked a smile.