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Watercolor / Shen Lu

Release Date: 08/14/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30039
Composer:  Chen Peixun ,  Maurice Ravel ,  Sergei Rachmaninov ,  Tan Dun Performer:  Shen Lu Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins.

Chinese pianist Shen Lu has won numerous international piano competitions. His gold prize at the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano competition includes this collaboration with Steinway & Sons – a debut recording from an exceptional young artist. A native of Jiangsu, China, Shen Lu has performed concerts at Beijing’s Central Conservatory Music Hall, Culture Center and City Hall, Weill Recital Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York, Jordan Hall in Boston, Severance Hall in Cleveland, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, The County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, Flagey Concert Hall in Brussels, and the Seymour Centre in Sydney. Watercolor highlights Shen Lu’s specialty in contemporary Chinese repertoire and his passion for the great Read more French and Russian piano works of the 20th century.

Album Credits:
Recorded March 2 – 4, 2015 at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carasquillo
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Piano Technician: John Veitch

"Watercolor is a recital that bookends familiar masterpieces of 20th-century Western piano music (Ravel’s Miroirs, and Rachmaninoff’s Op. 33 Etudes Tableaux) with piano music by Chinese composers Chen Peixun and Tan Dun. The first piece, Chen Peixun’s Impressionistic Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake, was not familiar to me, but the fluidity of Shen Lu’s passagework and trills was very impressive.

Entering into the more familiar territory of Ravel’s Miroirs, it did not take me long to conclude that there was an awful lot of Walter Gieseking’s approach in Shen’s Ravel. For many listeners, Gieseking’s 1950s EMI recordings are the gold standard in Ravel, so, that is by no means a bad thing.

However, it is in Rachmaninoff’s Etudes Tableaux that Shen shines most brightly, I think—in particular, No. 3 in C minor. There is a plangent quality to the slow upper-octave melody in the middle section that most of today’s hot-rodding young pianists don’t seem to be able to convey.

I must take a moment to praise the recorded sound, courtesy of Virginia’s Sono Luminous studio, which records in a church from the early 1900s. New York Steinway D grand piano, of course; and it is in a very enviable state of setup and tune. I have heard many of Steinway’s CD releases these past few years. For me, in terms of sonics, the “picks of the litter” are Alan Feinberg’s Basically Bull, and Shen Lu’s Watercolor. Both were recorded at Sono Luminous, by Daniel Shores. Bravo.

Watercolor is one of the most exceptional solo-piano recordings of the past several years."

-- John Marks, The Tannhäuser Gate

"Distinguished pianist and 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition winner Shen Lu presents an excellent documentation of his award-winning recital program during Watercolor. The 22 compositions offered on his debut for the Steinway & Sons record label are masterful interpretations of works composed by Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninov and Tan Dun. Most of these priceless, imaginative works for solo pianist evoke water imagery and were inspired by a variety of people, places, nature and events.

Watercolor opens with Chen Peixun’s arrangement of the 1930s Chinese folk song titled Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake. It has a very gentle melody that suggests the downstream movement of water rippling over sedentary stones in the lake. Shen Lu plays this piece impeccably and as you listen, you can imagine the rippling textures as symbolized by the arpeggios and trills. Simply beautiful.

The lovely music continues with Maurice Ravel’s five movement piece titled Miroirs. Ravel wrote this amazing work for solo piano in 1905 as a tribute to members of the French avant-garde artist group known as Les Apaches. The first movement is titled Noctuelles ("Night Moths") and was dedicated to Léon-Paul Fargue. As Shen Lu plays this chromatic work he maintains its dark, nocturnal mood via calm chordal melodies that reveal his distinctive virtuosity. The second movement "Oiseaux Tristes" (Sad Birds) is dedicated to Ricardo Viñes. This particular movement represents a lone bird whistling a sad tune but it also has several moments that capture water imagery. Shen Lu's exemplary technique beautifully captures the symbolism in this piece.

Ravel returns to a water theme with the third movement titled “Une barque sur l’ocean" (A Boat on the Ocean). This popular movement was dedicated to Paul Sordes. Shen Lu’s interpretations of the arpeggiated sections and sweeping melodies are very concise and can also be interpreted as his own maiden voyage through a technically difficult set. The final two movements do not depict water images per se but are impeccably performed.

Rachmaninoff’s Etudes Tableaux, Op. 33 was written in 1911 and is comprised of 8 etudes. Shen Lu’s finesse and energy are enough to consume these difficult compositions and as a result, he offers the listener an excellent recapitulation of Rachmaninoff’s final works for solo piano."

Shen Lu ends Watercolor with Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor, Op. 1. This splendid work combines the instinctive musical abilities of both masters and gives the listener an appropriate conclusion to this excellent program."

–- Paula Edelstein, AXS

From Steinway & Sons' growing catalog of personal and beautifully recorded piano recitals comes this one from Chinese pianist Shen Lu, whose training includes stints in Beijing, Boston, and Cleveland. Chinese musicians are said to be seeking out American teachers as a way of adding freedom and originality to their thinking, and that seems to be what's happening here. Some might find more crackling versions of, say, Ravel's Miroirs than the one delivered here by Shen, but it fits in with the rest of the program in a way that keeps listeners absorbed to a degree than another instance of mechanistic virtuosity might not. The program maintains a theme of "impressionistic" depiction, filtering it through the East/West divide and through subdivisions of each. It's nice to compare the technically similar but emotionally quite different depictions of rippling water in Chen Peixun's folk-based Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake (track 1) and Une barque sur l'océan of Ravel (track 4). The unusual work here is the set of Eight Memories in Watercolor, Op. 1, of Tan Dun, written just as China was reopening to the West after the Cultural Revolution. Rachmaninov's rather Russian-flavored Etudes Tableaux, Op. 33, are arguably more exotic to Western ears than Tan Dun's mood-oriented landscape miniatures. They're quite different from what those familiar with Tan Dun's large orchestral canvases might expect, but their concision pointed the way to the composer's future success. Chinese music has reached a point where listeners worldwide can follow the course of a composer's career as they do with those in the West, and that's just one of the intriguing features of this enjoyable culture-crossing release.

-- AllMusic Guide

This is sort of a themed recital program from pianist Shen Lu, in which each of the pieces presented invokes water imagery in some way — sometimes very directly, as in both of the Chinese compositions that bracket the program, and sometimes a bit less so, as in the case of Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs suite, and really not at all in the case of Rachmaninov’s Etudes tableaux suite. But Shen Lu plays all of these pieces with rippling, fluid elegance, and in that important sense the evocation stands up. Recommended to all classical collections. -- CD Hotlist This is a gorgeously played program—a debut recording by an exceptionally talented young pianist. Shen Lu earned his Bachelor’s Degree in his native China and came to the US to earn additional degrees at the New England Conservatory. He is currently studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has won prizes in many competitions, and his gold medal in the Hilton Head Piano Competition in 2014 earned him a collaboration with Steinway to make this recording. The production values for this recording are exceptional in every way. Beautifully designed packaging, state-of-the-art recording quality, and a well-written booklet essay all complement an artist who fully deserves this kind of start to his career. The whole concept conveyed by the title is realized in both the selection of pieces and their performance. Peixun, Tan Dun, and Ravel can all be generalized into an impressionist style. The Rachmaninoff surprised me because Shen emphasizes the Tableaux part of the title more than the Etude part. For someone whose early exposure to Asian music was ‘Rush Hour in Hong Kong’ by Abrahm Chasins, I have come to a special interest in genuine Asian music, at least when it is filtered through Western instruments like the piano. Certainly a part of this is the fact that my wife and I have two daughters that we traveled to the other side of the world to adopt in China and Vietnam. Both have grown up 100% American with our love of Western music, and only their physical appearance links them to their genetic origins. Both have listened with me to Peixun’s ‘Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake’ and enjoyed it very much. It is very peaceful, relaxing, and quite beautiful. Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor are his Op. 1 and show Impressionism through Chinese sensibilities. This is probably the reverse of Debussy’s ‘Pagodes’, where an Asian Gamelin orchestra is recreated via France’s foremost impressionist composer. I have come across the Tan Dun pieces once before in a fine recording by David Fung called Evening Conversations (Yarlung 62375, Nov/Dec 2007). I have written at length about Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33. Originally nine pieces, but No. 4 is missing. It was withdrawn, revised and published as Op. 39:6, so we are most typically given the eight etudes that remain in the composer’s manuscript, but numbers 5 to 9 are numbered 4 to 8. When I played the E-flat major one, it was for the virtuosity, excitement and challenge, not the evocation of a ‘Fair’ as Rachmaninoff described to Respighi. With all the technique that I was lacking, Shen finds it very easy to bring the ‘Fair’ concept to the foreground and let the technical demands take care of themselves. Even the big, final C-sharp minor Etude-Tableaux is just a little less edgy and virtuosic and more colorful in Shen’s hands. Please don’t get the idea that it lacks excitement, drive and the appropriate volume, because it surely doesn’t. This will remain on my active listening stack for some time to come. -- American Record Guide I’ve been listening to this CD almost every day since I took the shrink wrap off it. A native of Jiangsu, China, Shen Lu has performed concerts in Beijing, Carnegie Hall in New York, Boston, Cleveland, The Kennedy Center, Los Angeles, Sydney, and in Dublin. He was a prize-winner at multiple International Piano Competitions, and won best French music prize for Ravel’s Miroirs at the 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition, the central work on this CD. Pixum Chen’s exquisite “Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake” starts off the painterly pieces, along with Racmaninov’s “Etudes Tableaux” and Tan Dun’s glittering tone pictures, “8 Memories in Watercolor.” The recording was part of the winner’s package for one of his awards, and it is marvelously performed & recorded, and an emotionally touching first recording.

-- WSCL Blog

A native of Jiangsu, China, pianist Shen Lu earned the gold prize at the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano competition, which led to this collaboration with Steinway & Sons for his debut recording (2-4 March 2015). “Watercolor” highlights Shen Lu’s specialization in contemporary Chinese repertoire, with one work each by Chen Peixun and Tan Dun, arguably the most familiar composers of Chinese extraction in the Western world. Lu’s rendition of Ravel’s Miroirs gleaned Best French Music Prize at the 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition. He currently studies with Haesun Paik at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Chen Peixun transcribed the 1930s folksong by Lu Wencheng, “Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake.” Its gentle arpeggios and rippling upper register proves apt for Lu’s poetic temperament. A luminous chorale rises in the midst of the swirls and eddies, a brittle aria Liszt might have admired.

Lu’s penchant for Ravel’s 1905 suite of five “mirrors” becomes immediately obvious in his fluid rendition of Noctuelles, night moths that flutter over a resonant pedal. The skittish chromatics bask in moonlight, while the return of the opening occurs a fifth below, rather “classical” to an initiate in Ravel’s mysteries. The “sad birds” seems to focus on one particular bird, not far from Schumann’s Vogel als prophet. More birds clamor further along, but a cadenza serves as a transition to the isolation of the featured character in this ornithological etude.

Lu means to play Une barque sur l’ocean as a highly chromatic sarabande whose ravishing chords cover an arpeggio bifurcated into F-sharp Minor and A Major. The flourishes in descending cascades after a transition into B-flat Major mark Lu as a master technician. The two notes, F-sharp and A clash, merge, separate, and sing in most miraculous colors. The waves stir, rise, and then trickle into a bass pattern quite reminiscent of the various ondines that inhabit French music’s sensuous waters. Dinu Lipatti immortalized the Alborada del gracioso for posterity, having immaculate control of the host of repeated notes in Spanish style. Lu’s guitars ring with vibrant authority as well. His textures clash and thin out, much as the morning mist clears to leave our “jester” smiling and dizzy from a night of feria. Lu imposes a series of differently nuanced bells along with the motion in sixteenths to establish the resonance of the La vallee des cloches. Whether Swiss or French church bells haunt the scene, the effect remains luminous and unearthly.

With the first of Rachmaninov’s 1911 Etudes Tableaux, Lu reveals a decidedly aggressive, bravura stance. Besides evoking subjective mental pictures, the eight pieces pay homage to Chopin, whom Rachmaninov forever admired as a creator of intensely etched miniatures. Only six had publication in the composer’s lifetime. They challenge Lu’s capacity for syncopes, massive chords in shifting time signatures, alternating hands, broad intervallic spans, expressive melodic contours, and a sense of dynamic balance that derives from Rachmaninov’s equally fierce respect for Liszt. The No. 2 in C Major exploits open fifths while blending Russian fervor and Chopin’s lyricism. The Etude in c minor shares a diaphanous mysticism with several of the preludes, a nocturne of wistful nostalgia. The martial d minor reminds us the composer’s 3 Russian Folksongs, Op. 41, perhaps illumined by tropes in Tchaikovsky. The e-flat minor combines late Debussy harmony with the character of a Scriabin toccata. The E-flat Major proffers a brazen march in a volatile spirit close to Gottschalk. Witty syncopes in bell tones ring throughout, while a middle section in tenths occupies any pianist who wishes to maintain strict tempo. Water does seem appropriate to the g minor, a sweet fantasy that fuses Debussy, Liszt, and Brahms, at once. The coda, however, nods to Chopin’s Ballade in the same key. The No. 8 in c-sharp minor appears like a menacing parody of the famed—or notorious—prelude in the same key, here fused to Bach chromatics. Lu gives the Etude the same broad spectrum and girth he might allot Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy.

Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor (1979) derives from studies of Western music at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, mixed with a heimweh, homesickness in the form of Hunan folk songs. Moody or glittery, the works project a good knowledge of the keyboard in the manner of moments musicaux. Silver raindrops find their way into the palette, likely scented by Debussy and Ravel. If Liszt and Scarlatti appear in Chinese, they do so by way of Grieg’s sense of national compression. Paul Muni would have gained even more sensibility if these pieces had been available for The Good Earth.

-- Audiophile Audition

There is success through a very different sort of juxtaposition in a Steinway & Sons release featuring pianist Shen Lu. Here, what could be an over-obvious contrast between Western and Eastern piano music becomes something more through careful selection of the works and through the attentiveness of Lu’s playing. One point of connection through much of the music is water. Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake is a 1930s Chinese folk song arranged by Chen Peixun with rippling arpeggios that seem to propel the melody and the listener gently downstream. There is an interesting contrast with Une barque sur l’océan (“A Boat on the Ocean”), the third of the Miroirs by Ravel, which also uses arpeggios to imitate the flow of ocean currents—but which includes broad, sweeping melodies that effectively expand this notion of water beyond that of a lake to that of a much broader expanse. However, the water connection among the works here should not be pushed too far: the four remaining pieces in Miroirs have nothing watery about them, instead mirroring the darkness of night in Noctuelles (“Night Moths”), the wistfulness of birdsong in Oiseaux tristes (“Sad Birds”), a variety of complex, Spanish-inflected themes in Alborada del gracioso (“Morning Song of the Jester”), and the broad harmonies of bells in La vallée des cloches (“The Valley of Bells”). These tonal pictures are extensive and sophisticated, not mere trifles, and Lu accords them the depth and color they deserve. Miroirs makes a fascinating contrast with the eight pieces in Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, Op. 33, which are at least as challenging as the Ravel to perform but are more concerned with inward human emotions than with impressionistic portrayals of external scenes. Yet Rachmaninoff’s pieces did have direct outside inspirations—ones the composer disclosed only in part, to fellow composer Ottorino Respighi, who orchestrated several of the 1911 piano works in 1930. The second étude, for example, was inspired by the sea and seagulls, thus providing yet another water connection for Lu’s recital. But the Rachmaninoff works, unlike those in Ravel’s set, are best heard without any particular reference to their stimuli, allowing listeners to focus on the underlying emotions brought forth by Rachmaninoff and on the extraordinary technical demands of the études, especially the last four. The Rachmaninoff cycle provides a very well-thought-out contrast with Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor, a sequence that includes four folk songs—thus tying to Chen Peixun’s piece—and that is based on highly personal recollections. Written in 1978 and revised in 2002, the year before its first performance, Eight Memories in Watercolor is a work in which Tan Dun remembers the last period of China’s Cultural Revolution, when violence was ebbing and Western music was again allowed. The piece thus functions both as a bridge between East and West and as one between Tan Dun’s own later life and his earlier one. Filled with wistfulness and longing, it contrasts technically as well as harmonically with Rachmaninoff’s eight-movement work and allows Lu to show the considerable skill with which he perceives and communicates the very different emotional content underlying these pieces and the others on this first-rate recording.

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