Ji Liu

Fire & Water

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The London-based Chinese pianist Ji Liu is showing some staying power after the release of his 2014 chart-topper Piano Reflections, and this album, based on Chinese aesthetic principles that the pianist explains himself in the text connected with the release, should continue the trend. The result is a pleasantly coherent program of works evoking the titular elements, with stops in Chinese music (a piece called "Ode to the Yellow River," by a composer known only as Xinghai) and pop minimalism (Ludovico Einaudi's Le Onde). It goes down easy, but Ji Liu has several things going for him that keep you listening. One is that he is a composer himself, and he does several of the arrangements of non-piano pieces here. Sample "The Aquarium," from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, where he effectively favors his own strengths: the liquid quality of his upper register is put to good use, as it is in Ravel's Jeux d'eau. Ji Liu delivers power where needed, in Rachmaninov's Spring Waters (another of his arrangements) and Stravinsky's "Danse infernale." The program moves easily between the more substantial Debussy and Scriabin and the simpler Einaudi and Xinghai (which shows a Chinese composer mastering an only-lightly Chinese idiom). The project is well calculated to achieve best-seller status, and that's likely exactly what it will do. Classic FM wisely chooses the Liverpool Philharmonic's Friary hall, a space that reveals the more delicate aspects of Ji Liu's playing without losing its big, public quality.

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