Wu Wows Olympic Festival Audience with Dazzling Debut

United StatesUnited States Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Mozart: Di Wu and Julio Elizalde (pianos), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 3.9.2010 (BJ)

A moment of disappointment, on arriving at the farm in Quilcene Saturday for the final weekend of this year’s Olympic Music Festival, was followed by two hours of the most comprehensive artistic satisfaction.

The disappointment? A two-piano program shorn of the promised La Valse, The Rite of Spring, and Schubert’s Grand Rondeau. The satisfaction? Replacement works – some rather less dramatic Ravel pieces and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances – that provided ample rewards of their own, coupled, on an afternoon of glorious sunshine, with playing of positively stellar quality.

Originally announced as one of the afternoon’s pianists, Michael Brown had been forced to withdraw for health reasons, and the young Chinese-born Di Wu had gallantly agreed to fly out from the East Coast to join Julio Elizalde and present some still challenging repertoire on a mere four days’ preparation. She began her debut appearance at the festival with two solo pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs, and demonstrated from the very first note that we were in for a treat.

Make no mistake, Wu, though in less Politically Correct times I might have been tempted to call her “a slip of a girl,” is a big pianist, with a clearly major future. In Une Barque sur l’océan, she achieved a texturally intricate meshing of lines to recall some of those fabled Vladimir Horowitz performances that one felt could only have been the product of at least three hands. Lambent tone, quicksilver finger-work, expert pedal control, and eloquent phrasing came together to make this as fine a reading of the piece as I can remember hearing, and then, in Alborada del gracioso, Wu added propulsive rhythms and some stunning repeated-note execution to the already dazzling mix.

Impressive enough in recent weeks in his own right, Elizalde then joined Wu for three works (two for two pianos, one for one piano four-hands) all of which she was playing for the first time. The results were no less delightful. My favorite Rachmaninoff work, the Symphonic Dances, showed not the slightest trace of insecurity in ensemble despite the two pianists’ short preparation time together; they played with an ideal blend of strength and delicacy, brilliantly realizing all the shifting moods and colors of the three movements that the composer had originally intended to title “Daytime,” “Dusk,” and “Midnight.”

After intermission, Ravel’s Ma Mère l’oye for piano duet brought a comparable blend of expressive qualities, enhanced by Elizalde’s witty and touching recitation of the fairy-tale texts associated with the music. Mozart’s great D-major Sonata for two pianos – sole survivor from the originally planned program – then concluded the afternoon, and this summer’s festival, in a performance that combined stylistic awareness with sparkling wit and, in the central Andante, some ravishingly beautiful filigree from Elizalde’s right hand.

Bernard Jacobson

A shorter version of this review appeared in the Seattle Times.