Ji Liu: Pure Chopin
Ji Liu’s debut album ‘Piano Reflections’ shot straight to No 1 in the classical charts, making him, apparently, ‘the biggest-selling breakthrough artist of 2014’, since when his public profile (in the UK, at least) has been invisible. Jed Distler was lukewarm in his review of the disc (8/14) and I’m afraid I must follow suit with this bog-standard selection of popular Chopin.
To the casual listener there is nothing noticeably wrong with it: the sound Liu produces is full and rounded with a lovely singing tone; he has been well recorded in a natural acoustic; and you will rarely hear each note Chopin wrote so clearly delineated (listen to the trills in the second part of the A major ‘Military’ Polonaise, for example, or the last movement of the Second Piano Sonata, perhaps the most deliberate on record). There is much to admire, not least the superbly articulated ‘Black Key’ Etude (Op 10 No 5), where Liu’s playing finally transcends the bounds of the studio. Stephen Hough’s newly composed Chopin-inspired Nocturne oriental makes an atmospheric bonus track.
It’s all just fine – if you like your Chopin straight off the page with no flavouring. Ji Liu, Shanghai-born (1990) and London-based, is the antithesis of those pianists whose playing was a fusion of the composer’s and artist’s thoughts back in the day when one went to hear, say, Hofmann’s Chopin, Moiseiwitsch’s Chopin or Cherkassky’s Chopin. Liu’s is faceless, anonymous Chopin. Of individuality, charm, insouciance or something new to say about these works (all of which have been recorded to distraction by dozens of immeasurably greater pianists) there is only a glimmer.
The booklet (which to Classic FM’s discredit says nothing of Ji Liu or the music) is a contender for Ridiculous CD Cover of the Year, consisting of several pictures of the pianist either doing a t’ai chi exercise or auditioning for a remake of Thunderbirds. I’m not sure which but it’s unlikely to imbue the potential customer with confidence.