George Li: Live at the Mariinsky

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Haydn,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Warner Classics
ALBUM TITLE: George Li: Live at the Mariinsky
WORKS: Haydn: Piano Sonata in B minor; Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2; Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Liszt: Consolation No. 3; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
PERFORMER: George Li (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0190295812942

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Child piano prodigies – and their teachers and carers – face an unusual challenge in weighing musical development against early career opportunities. Boston-born George Li appears to have found an ideal balance. Despite winning the prestigious Gilmore Young Artist Award back in 2011 (at the tender age of 15), Li waited until he had a few more years – and a clutch of prizes, such as the silver medal from Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition (2015) – before releasing this debut disc.

It was worth the wait. The solo recital, recorded live at the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg (and also performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016), has all the light and shade expected from such a varied programme. The Haydn sonata is an airy Victoria sponge, with a thick and luxurious cream filling. The Chopin sonata, on the other hand, is a deep and complex fruitcake; while the Rachmaninov variations are cake pops: tiny – but intense – bursts of flavour. Liszt appears as a lemon drizzle cake, and the acidity cuts through the sweetness.

Li’s style is thoughtful and expressive, rather than exciting, and the concert recording gives the performance a directness. The 21-year-old produces an exquisite tone in Consolation No. 3 (Liszt), melting into the keyboard with incredible technique. (This is also to the fore in the Hungarian Rhapsody.) The Haydn is beautifully delineated. The sound quality is extremely good throughout, although the lower registers of the keyboard feel overtly resonant at times, particularly during the Chopin. 

Claire Jackson