Concert Reviews 2019-2020
Review of Eric Lu’s Recital for Oxshott & Cobham Music Society
Holy Trinity Church, Claygate – December 7, 2019 (3)
Eric Lu came and went saying not a word in this eloquent recital, preferring to let his fingers do the talking. Only a stiff formal bow (and perhaps a hint of a smile at the end) acknowledged the enthusiastic audience’s applause. But that was the only thing which was stiff in his fluent performance. In fact, we felt like bystanders – albeit very privileged bystanders – in his conversation with the keyboard, his head often at piano lid level as he hunched over the instrument.
The only criticism I would offer was that he left little space between the works for us to absorb the beauties he set before us. I would love to know whether the mere 20 second pause between the opening Brahms Intermezzo in E-flat major (Op. 117) and the Schumann Ghost Variations (WoO 24) that followed was meant to make some point about a personal connection (two valedictory works written 38 years apart) or was merely his crisp way of moving on from one terrain to another.
With Brahms and Schumann it is arguable that ghosts (or demons) are an inevitability. Schumann wrote his last published work on the edge of madness and before-and-after his suicide attempt. In Brahms’ Six Piano Pieces (Op. 118), which closed the first half of the concert the composer’s love for Clara Schumann still lurks in the background (and, indeed, in the foreground – on the title page, as dedicatee): Molto appassionato (as in the opening Intermezzo) after all these years! But he also offers in succeeding movements crystalline purity, dancing rhythms and (in the fifth piece, the Romance in F major) a fluidity of form which suggests the atmosphere of the bars in which (according to dubious legend) the youthful Brahms played to earn his beer-money.
But while it’s possible to underline the elements of valediction and past regret in all these pieces (not to mention the old slur against the elderly Brahms that he was ‘reactionary’), careful listening reveals hints of the impressionism being developed by Debussy in Fin de Siècle Paris and a great rhythmic and harmonic freedom.
The second half of the concert was taken up by Chopin’s 24 Preludes (Op. 28) – an ideal piece to showcase Lu’s technical mastery in (literally) every key. The flawless moto perpetuo (Prelude No. 3), the animation shown in the supposedly desolate Prelude No. 4 and the extraordinary fluency of No. 16 (‘presto con fuoco’) all stood out for me, though the final Allegro appassionato was perhaps more powerful than beautiful.
The encore, Schubert Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major (Op. 90, D.899) was perfectly chosen as an antidote to that forceful ending – limpid, delicate, with the most exquisite singing melody.
A really marvellous performance – but please, Mr. Lu, a little more time to enjoy the inner silence your craftsmanship instils would make all the difference.
Trio con Brio
Joseph Haydn: Piano Trio in C major, Hob XV:27
Anton Arensky: Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.3
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in B flat major, Op 97
No-one attending the concert given by Trio con Brio Copenhagen, could possibly fail to recognise that the publicity concerning their musicianship and technical ability was not overblown or inaccurate. This was a stunning concert. From the beginning of the Haydn, one was aware of the tremendous rapport between players. The music was allowed to flow between instruments; melodies or themes being taken up and passed on with no-one trying to shine as an individual, thus creating a seamless flow and interchange. Nevertheless, one could not help being aware of the tremendous technique of the pianist, Jens Elvekjaer, whose sole job seemed to be to dazzle, create and re-create the brilliant lively theme with rapid fingerwork, occasional trills, scale and arpeggio passages which are a feature of this piece.
Solo opportunities however, abounded for the violin and cello played by the two sisters, Soo-Kyung Hong and Soo-Jin Hong in the melodic lines of Arensky and also Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio. Sweetness of tone in the upper passages of the violin writing were spell-bindingly soft, whilst the sadness of the main melody in the slow movement of the Arensky was deeply felt, conveyed by both stringed instruments with sincerity and great beauty.
Their performance of the "Archduke Trio," -Beethoven's final piano trio, -filled the second half of the programme, arresting one's attention with the magnificent main theme of the first movement, and then the delicacy of staccato and light-hearted first theme of the second, alternating between lyricism and mystery in the middle section. The Trio gave an exemplary performance of the work, bringing out the reflective qualities of third movement's theme on which variations were based and in the final movement leading to an exciting climax. The audience loved it and greeted it with cheers and, although it was a long programme, wanted more.
The Trio finally offered a slow and reflective movement from Dvorak sending the audience home more than satisfied with an excellent evening of music.
Only the second of the seven concerts this season and already we have had two wonderful programmes!
What will the winner of the Leeds Competition offer us? I can scarcely wait!
The Pixels Ensemble
Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op 47 (1842)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, K478 (1785)
Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor, Op 60 (1875)
The evening opened with a splendid and entertaining illustrated talk by Roy Stratford, who lectures at the Wigmore Hall, and who is really multi-talented. The way he illustrates works both on the piano and by recordings, is so clever. All three works that we were going to hear were covered. As usual, Roy’s talk was entertaining and inspiring.
The works were all piano quartets, played by an outstanding group, ‘The Pixels Ensemble’, who all individually had very high credentials. The works were, in order, Robert Schumann’s in E-flat major, Op 47, Mozart’s No 1 in G Minor, K478 and, after the interval, Brahms’ No 3 in C Minor, Op. 60.
As explained in Roy’s talk, Schumann’s work, from the Romantic period, was much influenced by the composer’s mental illness, and his reliance on his wife, Clara. The four movements, Allegro ma non troppo, Scherzo molto vivace, Andante cantabile and the Finale: Vivace, were given inspired treatment with zest and thoughtfulness, as appropriate, and received enthusiastic applause.
The Mozart, with three movements: Allegro, Andante and Rondo: Allegro, demonstrated the contrast between the classical style and the romantic style of Schumann. I’m very fond of Mozart’s operas, and some of the symphonies, particularly K550 (No. 40), and the Jupiter, No. 41. All of the canon, of course, displays the composer’s astounding genius in the classical era. The quartet was quieter that the Schumann, naturally, but the skill of the performers was, once again, fully evident, and the audience fully enjoyed it.
After the interval, we heard the Brahms, perhaps the most impressive work in the concert, being later, and a fitting finale to the evening. I hadn’t known that Schumann had been a benefactor of Brahms, or that Brahms had an affection for Clara Schumann. Whilst Robert was in an asylum, Brahms stayed with Clara, but left when Robert died. It was surprising that he didn’t stay to comfort her; perhaps he was too upset.
Nevertheless, the third movement was like a love letter to Clara, whom he never saw again. The performance was, again, outstanding, and the performers were given even more enthusiastic applause, bringing them back for their final bows.
This season will have performers that are all at the peak of their profession, and the first was an example of what’s to come. Roy Stratford will be giving another talk before the fifth concert, on 22 February, when we have a string quartet playing works by Smetana, Borodin and Dvorak.