Pianist Bruce Liu (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

Notes of promise

Bruce Liu: Waves (Deutsche Grammophon)

Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week


The content of this DG debut album by the 2021 Chopin Competition winner is arrestingly original. It features three French composers from the last three centuries — the court opera composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), the Jewish misanthrope Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813–88) and the Basque bachelor Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) — never knowingly conjoined in the same programme.

The combination of these three masters looks wildly exciting, on paper

Despite a common mother-tongue, the three masters speak different musical languages. Rameau writes with baroque playfulness for the harpsichord. Alkan strives to be more unplayable than Liszt. Ravel inhabits an oceanic loneliness, somewhere between impressionism and modernism. The combination looks wildly exciting, on paper.

In performance, it is less so. Rameau on a modern concert grand (Fazioli?) is not the real Rameau but a hybrid harpsi-morbidity, redesigned for movie scenes. His celebrated Gavotte loses its lovely courtliness, and Les Sauvages is far from aboriginal.

The two Alkan pieces here are the relatively unchallenging Barcarolle and Festin d’Esope, both made to sound Chopinesque rather than window-shattering. Only in Ravel’s Miroirs is the idiom perfect. Yet, the Beijing-born, Canada-reared Liu is up against giants on record like Ashkenazy, Richter, Gieseking, Cécile Ousset, Samson Francois, Thibaudet, Pierre-Laurent Aimard — unfair competition for a beginner.

If there were an award for a table of contents, this release would win hands down. Only in Alkan’s fabulous Festin does one get a glimpse of where Bruce Liu might be heading.

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