George Li: Live at the Mariinsky
A photograph of the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition silver medallist on the disc cover shows a young man looking into the camera with an open, winning smile. It makes a change from the normal haughty or glum poses that normally greet the paying customer. And it’s a smile that might well find itself transferred to that customer’s face when they hear the Haydn sonata which begins George Li’s recital at the Mariinsky Concert Hall, St Petersburg, in October 2016. It’s the kind of dextrous, bubbling, life-affirming performance that cannot help but lift the spirits and make one eager to hear what follows.
The opening of the first movement of the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata does not quite match expectations. Neither the ambiguous pulse of the first subject nor the leading voice is sufficiently defined but the performance blossoms and flourishes as it continues (he takes the repeat from the doppio movimento bar, not da capo); the Scherzo is crisp and punchy; the eponymous third movement is unusually doleful and heartfelt, with the Trio providing a genuine sense of consolation; and the finale is superbly coloured and phrased.
Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli (more correctly Variations on ‘La folia’) provides further evidence of a major talent to whom it is simply a pleasure to listen (the occasional pedal thump notwithstanding). Liszt’s Consolation No 3 reminded me of Tamás Vásáry’s account from 1958 while the ubiquitous Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 concludes proceedings – ubiquitous, that is, apart from Rachmaninov’s rarely heard and stylistically anachronistic cadenza (last encountered in these pages as recently as July in the composer’s own recording). This is said to be a live concert. From beginning to end there is little evidence of such. It would have been nice to have included the thunderous applause that must have greeted the conclusion of this impressive recital.