Ji Liu

Pure Chopin

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Pianist Ji Liu, with the gauzy Piano Reflections (2014) and Piano Encores (2015) albums, became a favorite with Britain's crossover-oriented Classic FM radio network, and this group of Chopin standards marked a logical next step for his career. Certainly Liu's charisma is an important part of the marketing effort, but the fact is that this is a Chopin collection that holds together in a satisfying way. Liu himself, in the largely unedited booklet notes, points out the difficulty in entering the crowded field of Chopin-favorites albums, but his work is distinctively his own. Instead of trying to out-emote his competitors, he goes the opposite direction, reducing the tempo rubato total considerably and playing a lot of the big tunes straightforwardly. Tempo rubato is applied at phrase ends and in transitions. The results are not wooden in the least; the music has a nice forward energy and a kind of swing. Liu is perhaps least effective in the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, which demands a more monumental treatment, but sample one of the famous waltzes, perhaps the Waltz in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2 (track five), for a performance in which the player does not get between the music and the audience. This is uncomplicated Chopin that fits the purposes for which it was designed.

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