Bruce Liu’s Thoroughly Entertaining Chopin Debut

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

As a daily blogger for the 18th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, I was fascinated by one particular contestant, whose impetuous and colorful virtuosity harked back to such capricious interpreters as Shura Cherkassky and Georges Cziffra. To be honest, I didn’t think the jury would take Bruce Liu’s garishly detailed pianism seriously: after all, respectable modern day Chopin players aren’t supposed to reverse dynamics and alter accents, or pull more inner voices out of the hat in one hour than Josef Hofmann did in his entire career. Yet the jury gave Liu first prize, and awarded the Silver and Bronze Medals to similarly individual souls.

All of the selections on this disc stem from Liu’s live, unedited competition performances. Liu’s awesomely effortless virtuosity consistently oozes charisma and insouciance. His Fourth Scherzo’s supple rhythmic spring is right up there with the young Ashkenazy’s staggering live 1955 Chopin Competition performance and Horowitz’s legendary 1936 shellac recording. The Grande Polonaise matches Hofmann’s litheness and rhythmic élan note for note. The Mazurkas evoke Ignaz Friedman’s timing and accentuation, minus the old master’s added octaves and filled in chords. Some of the C-sharp minor Nocturne’s rhetorical gestures border on fey, while the two Etude performances impress more for their polish than their daring.

During the competition I heard comparably detailed yet more substantial Op. 42 renditions from finalists Aimi Kobayashi and Alexander Gadjiev. However, Liu’s gifts reached positively transcendental heights in the “La ci darem” Variations. No other recording of this admittedly flashy and fluffy piece comes close to matching Liu’s nuanced bravura and scintillation. It remains to be seen if the scope of Liu’s gifts ranges beyond showpieces. Then again, how often do you hear such a thoroughly entertaining Chopin recital?

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante Op. 22; Études Op. 10: No. 4 in C-sharp minor; Etudes Op. 25: No. 4 in A minor; Mazurkas Op. 33; Nocturne in C-sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2; Scherzo No. 4 in E major Op. 54; Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” Op. 2; Waltz in A-flat major Op. 42
  • Bruce Liu (piano)

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