As if a complete programme of Liszt’s ultra-virtuoso transcriptions isn’t difficult enough, this very young Chinese pianist also lands himself with the subtler musical challenge of making the whole project come across as something more memorable than a non-stop firework display. Given that Niu Niu was only 14 when he made this recording last year, his achievement is remarkable. His equable, rounded tone is underpinned by mature technique: the fugato in Danse macabre is delivered with remarkable, almost nonchalant clarity, while the closing bars of ‘La campanella’ have a non-abrasive bravado that sounds exactly right. Niu’s programme also explores some (relatively) thoughtful byways, such as ‘Die Post’ from Schubert’s Winterreise, or Liszt’s soulful take on ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Sometimes a big enough response to the music’s soaring flights is lacking: the ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan doesn’t (yet) surge as it wants to, and the A flat Liebesträume misses the authentic Romantic feeling of ardent emotion putting itself fully on the line. Clearly, though, here is a fine musical talent.