George LI’s diverse yet unified programme could hardly be played with a more stunning mix of introspection and aplomb. At 28 he is already a pianist of formidable stature. He is deeply sensitive to Schumann’s divided nature, to the centrality of his two dearly cherished fictions, Forestan(the man of action) and Eusebius(the man of dreams) and if his way with the Arabesque does not achieve the heights of Maria Pires in her DG recording(her bell-like sonority, her instantly recognisable lucidity)  he is finely aware of its  quality, notably in the wistful, gently pleading coda. He is all Florestan in his fearless launch of the Davidsbundlertanze, creating a fine frenzy in sections 3 and 4 and with a capacity in 6 to make everyone’s pulse beat faster. Yet he is as confiding as you could wish in section 7 and in the valedictory C major coda, all previous mood swings resolved, as he puts it in his accompanying essay, in ‘the key of purity.’ Few performances have achieved a greater sense of Schumann’ ultra-romanticism, its soaring to the heights, its sinking into despondency, a kaleidoscope of shifting emotional states that finally led to the collapse of reason. Here, indeed, is confirmation of Schumann’s own tragically prophetic words, ‘sometimes I think I could sing myself to death.’ I found myself longing to hear Li in more Schumann, in further masterpieces, in Carnaval, the Bunte Blatter, Humoresque etc. He is born for Schumann.


In Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales Li’s playing is again a wonder of variety. Once again you are made more than aware of the sheer range of Li’s pianism, of his sensitivity to Ravel’s whimsical tribute to Schubert, to his alternating piquancy and inwardness and to the Waltzes final dissolution in a phantasmagoric haze.


Then there is Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Even when compared to celebrated recordings by Pollini (his icy perfection of detail) or GIlels(his expansion  including ‘At the Moore’s’ and ‘Dance of the Ballerina,’ the performance wildly flailing yet with a sense of Petrushka’s pain that hits a raw nerve) Li  somehow challenges comparison, not only in the tsunami of his virtuosity but in the vividness of his characterisation. He leaves you elated and exhilarated rather than bruised and battered.


So while I would never want to be without Cortot in the Davidsbundlertanze(King of the mis-hit, notably in section 12, but deliriously poetic throughout) or Maria Pires in the Arabesque, Li makes his own special and mesmeric claim in both works. Again, while I regret the absence of Rubinstein in Petrushka(arranged specially for him and performed, by all accounts, with an astounding aplomb) and of a Davidsbundlertanze from Radu Lupu(even to today so long after that London recital I recall him seemingly lost in his own reverie and creating an unforgettable aura of stillness in the coda) George LI’s performances are a rich and dazzling compensation.


This is a record of extraordinary quality, dedicated to George LI’s teachers who led him through ‘a heavenly garden’ and encouraged him to follow his ‘bliss.’


Impossible-- and on a lighter note-- not to add a post- script or anecdote. Many years ago, I spent virtually an entire morning talking to Artur Rubinstein when he told me of his experience with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales. Performing them in Spain (‘I love Spain, as one loves a woman, with tenderness’) when they were something of an audacious novelty, he found himself confronted with a conservative response. For his Spanish audience the opening, in particular, was a dissonant and unpleasant surprise. Greeted with boos and hisses rather than the thunderous applause to which he was accustomed, Rubinstein refused to play an encore before exacting a mischievous revenge returning to the stage to play the entire Valses again and creating a major musical scandal.


Bryce Morrison