Lichfield Festival review: Ji Liu @ Lichfield Cathedral’s Lady Chapel

Over the years I’ve learned that these early (for me) morning Festival concerts always turn out to be unusual and outstanding and Ji Liu’s marvellous 11am piano recital was a case in point.

Still in his early thirties, his first selection showed both his authority and accomplishment from the top of his neatly coiffed head to the jewelled heels of his shoes.

Rzweski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues was inspired by the composer’s 1979 visit to an American cotton mill where the workers sang traditional ballads to counteract the noisy industrial processes. Both came into the piece (“This is loud!” Ji Liu warned) allowing the amazing quality of his Faziou piano full scope. I don’t know about traditional ballads, but certainly I recognised When The Saints Go Marching In, and could that have been Stormy Weather?

His second offering, Beethoven’s Pathetique sealed the deal. The powerful first movement announced him a master as he explored the tragic sonorities of this essential composition. The second was infinitely tender, the third sprightly and elegant in the extreme.

Next came Busoni’s even more sprightly Sonatina No 6 Carmen Fantasy, sounding even more modern and accessible after the Beethoven, Ji Jiu throwing off sparks in the extrapolations of tunes from this popular opera.

His final choice, 3 Virtuoso Etudes based on Gershwin songs in transcriptions by Earl Wild was nearer to earth, The Man I Love funny and sentimental, a pyrotechnical Embraceable You and an almost voluptuous The Man I Love, stylish, sublime, and just a little bit camp.

For an encore his exquisite timing was fully on show in a Clair de lune we never wanted to end. World class stuff.

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