During a recent radio interview, Elliot Wuu said he was “shell-shocked” to learn that he was the winner of a 2018 Gilmore Young Artist Award. Modesty aside, the 18-year-old’s Sunday performance at the 2018 Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival made it very clear why he was deserving of the honor. Undaunted by a challenging program, Wuu brought finesse, fervor and heart to every piece, much to the delight of the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center audience.
Wuu began the recital with “Twelve Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, Maman,’ K. 265/300e” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (better known as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” variations to most of us). Wuu brought fresh energy to the familiar sing-song melody, with moods ranging from placid to frenetic. Its simplicity and effortlessness was a great warm up to the rest of the program.
Wuu then turned to the hymn-like “Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, D. 899” by Franz Schubert. Wuu’s ostinato overwhelmed the serene melody once or twice, but there were beautiful moments of stillness and benediction throughout, helped along by delicate hesitation as phrases unfolded.
Next, Wuu presented tidy yet meditative interpretations of three Sergei Rachmaninoff preludes. The tension in “Op. 23, No. 4, in D major” was absorbing, as he pulled the mood from sorrow to hope and finally resignation. The heart-rending melody of “Op. 32, No. 5, in G major” drifted above a gently arpeggiated accompaniment. During a fiery rendition of “Op. 32, No. 8, in A Minor,” the technical challenges appeared to be nonexistent as Wuu tackled the driving rhythms with dexterity.
To close the recital’s first half, Wuu performed Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Ricercare and Toccata on a Theme from The Old Maid and the Thief.” The staple of the piece is a theme from the composer’s successful radio opera that premiered in 1939. Wuu’s performance or the “ricercare” portion captured the ostentation of opera with dramatic flourishes, and deep resonance toward the end. The “toccata” was great fun as Wuu steadily cavorted through the rapidly repeating notes.
Post-intermission, Wuu performed the “Appassionata” sonata by Ludwig Van Beethoven, written at a time when the composer’s hearing was rapidly deteriorating. Wuu relished in the tempestuous mood shifts and sharp outbursts of the first movement, sweeping up the listeners with him in the journey. The calming second movement was imbued with meaning through Wuu’s sensitive touch and thoughtful pauses, before shocking chords announced the arrival of the electric third movement. His playing during the coda was completely arresting, prompting the audience to burst into applause following the closing chords.
With deeply felt devotion, Wuu performed “Widmung” by Robert Schumann/Franz Liszt for his encore. Those gorgeous cascades of sound guaranteed that Wuu indeed has a brilliant future ahead of him.
Wuu’s final performance at the 2018 Gilmore Festival takes place Monday, May 7, 2 p.m. at Stetson Chapel.
Vicksburg Performing Arts Center