Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4; Chopin: Sonata No. 2; Ballade No. 4

Eric Lu; The Hallé/Edward Gardner (Warner Classics)

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CD_0190295552152_Beethoven_cmyk

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4; Chopin Sonata No. 2; Ballade No. 4
Eric Lu (piano); The Hallé/Edward Gardner
Warner Classics 9029555215
62:31 mins

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The Leeds International Piano Competition recently held its first contest under a team of new directors who have extensively revised the proceedings. The winner, happily, is the Chinese-American pianist Eric Lu, fresh from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia – and he is certainly worth writing home about. This rapid release from Warner Classics presents three live performances from the competition and, listening to his Chopin playing in particular, it is really difficult to believe Lu is only 20. With a truly beautiful tone, an innate understanding of the music’s structure, flow and emotional drives and a warm, genuine, unaffected way of shaping the phrases, it sounds as if he has a wise head on young shoulders; his playing combines that with the best of a youthful, fresh response to these perennially-loved masterpieces.

His account of the Fourth Ballade is mellifluous, sensitive, powerful; and the heartache of deep identification with the music is ever present in the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata, illuminating its feverish darkness from within. The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 is perhaps less entirely satisfying. Again, there’s refinement of tone, elegance, lovely control and, impressively, the ready transformation of that Chopinesque touch into a deep, dark, Beethovenian one. The Hallé, though, sounds a bit scrappy and one suspects that lack of rehearsal time possibly didn’t do the general ensemble any favours. Sound quality captures something of the competition final’s excitement, though, and is both intimate and resonant for the Chopin. Lu swept to a well-deserved victory; let’s hope this will be his first recording of many.

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Jessica Duchen