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RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, January 22, 2017
Wei Luo, piano

Wei Luo Playing Shostakovich Jan. 22 (J. McNeill photo)

RISKY SPEED IN POTENT LUO RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 22, 2017

Each half of pianist Wei Luo’s Schroeder Hall recital Jan. 22 contained beguiling interpretations and consummate technical command of Shostakovich and Albeniz works, but each half finished with less than exalted playing.

Two of Shostakovich’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues opened the recital, from the wonderful set of 24 that are played often, and by such disparate artists as jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and the Russian Tatiana Nikolayeva (the dedicatee).

Ms. Luo chose the D Major (No. 5) and the grandiose D Minor that concludes the set. The first received a jaunty reading that emphasized the rippling chords in the treble and subtle right-hand voices that were well mated to the hall’s warmly voiced piano. In the fugue repeated notes were played with just the right dry touch that moved to a forceful end. But no less forceful was the great 24th Prelude and Fugue, starting with sonorous bell notes and moving inexorably to the big-boned fugue of considerable power. A mature and potent interpretation.

Beethoven’s C Major “Waldstein” Sonata should have been the recital’s capstone, but was not, as Ms. Luo chose a tempo that constantly blurred passage work and dynamics that overwhelmed the Sonata’s humor and classical impact. It was predictable playing for a young artist – minimal attention to ritards, over pedaled and with scales where individual notes sank into a sonic bog. Wit in this intricate movement was absent.

The playing in the chaste Adagio was also predictable, slow to the point of losing focus and too loud at the one place that builds a climax.

Pianists all play the opening of the marvelous Rondo (save for Hofmann’s stunning interpretation recorded in 1938) in the same soporific way, and Ms. Luo followed this practice. And she took the conventional path of blurring the sound with no pedal change in the fifth measure, giving the swirling phrase a wash of color at the expense of clarity. By punching out so many chords so loudly the humor of the Rondo was lost, and the modestly sized Schroeder Hall was overwhelmed with percussive and forte-fortissimo sound. Virtuosity in Beethoven doesn’t always have to be stridently tumultuous.

The long trills were played well and the artist chose to play the glissando octaves in two hands as fast scales. Applause from the audience of 125 was polite but not extended.

Following intermission playing of a different sort came in three Book I selections from Albéniz’ masterful Iberia. “Evocación” was carefully phrased and unfolded without hurry and with rich tone color. “El Puerto” was also evocative along with a “skittish” character, wholly suited to the piece. Rhythmic variety and a husky sonority were present in the concluding “El Corpus en Sevilla”. There was no applause, the audience perhaps simply happy to hear so many provocative details in this mesmerizing Spanish music.

The Albéniz is far harder to play than Prokofiev’s B Flat major Sonata (No. 7) that closed the program, and the Op. 83 Sonata is arguably the most played 20th Century piano sonata. Dennis Matsuev presented a volcanic rocket-speed performance of it in Weill several months ago, and Ms. Luo began the opening march loudly but with the tricky rhythms well in place. The composer was said to have wanted most of his Sonatas played with machine-like rhythmic control, and Ms. Luo has this in abundance.

The slow movement (maybe a rose between two thorns?) had the requisite mystery only at the end, and the bass often covered the right hand tune. The famous Precipitato was played as perpetual motion and it was easily enough to generate palpable excitement. It’s that kind of piece, raucous with the punctuation of four furious B Flat ending chords.

Ms. Luo offered one encore, Rachmaninoff’s transcription of his Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14. Her interpretation of this short melancholic song was sobering, convincing and beautiful.