The trouble with international competitions – apart from widespread jury corruption, too many events and an uneven entry level – is that they are under pressure to produce winners. Common sense will tell you that there can’t be that many geniuses in the world for two dozen major contests to find them year in, year out, and commonsense is right. But competition audiences demand a clear result and contestants need to be assured that they have not entered for nothing. So, year in, year out, every competition must give prizes.
Eric Lu, 20 years old, won the Leeds International Competition in September. Part of the prize was a debut recording on Warner Classics. Ten years ahead, when his career is hopefully flourishing, I’m not sure Eric will think that was such a great idea.
In the Chopin F minor ballade, I hear no mark of distinction, nothing to tell me that Eric Lu is any different or more thoughtful than a dozen other young pianists I have heard this year. He chose the Chopin funeral-march sonata for his final round and played it, as in the Ballade, without touching the sides. I suspect the audience felt much the same, judging by the tepid applause.
Beethoven’s G-major concerto is another matter. I like the way Eric Lu phrases his entry and his ease of dialogue with Edward Gardner and the Halle Orchestra. This is a perfectly acceptable performance of the concerto, and perhaps a little more. I think the soloist could shed restraint here and there, but that will come with confidence and maturity. There is a sparkle to his touch that is undoubtedly attractive. Eric Lu, at this moment is a competition winner. He is not the finished article. He may yet get there.