For his curated collection of solo piano pieces largely based on music from the early 20th century and released to coincide both with Debussy’s centenary year and the Chinese New Year on 16th February 2018, Chinese-born, London-based pianist, Ji Liu, draws on an ancient five-element theory contained within Chinese philosophy, known as ‘Wu Xing’ - traditionally used for understanding the relationship between humans and nature - to illustrate here the key elements of fire and water. The pianist’s infinite affection for French Impressionism, both in the worlds of music and art, combined with his Chinese heritage, have both lead him to deftly juxtapose here soothing, mellow sounds that brilliantly reflect the calming character of water with contrasting intense and fast-paced pieces inspired by the element of fire. This eagerly-anticipated new album places popular and much-loved repertoire such as Einaudi’s ‘Le Onde’ (one of the composers with whom Ji Liu has worked closely and whose first piano concerto received its world premiere by Ji Liu and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2016) and ‘The Swan’ by Saint-Saens, alongside new arrangements by Ji Liu himself, such as Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring Water’ and Agosti’s rarely recorded arrangement of Stravsinky’s ‘Firebird Suite’, in a profound exploration of the complexity of the piano.
Nature has long since been a source of inspiration for musicians and artists and was here too an important focus for the majority of the composers featured on Ji Liu’s brand-new album. For Debussy, nature was as much a source of inspiration as it was a refuge from fellow human beings. For Scriabin, impressionism influenced his Sonata-Fantasie in G-sharp minor, of which he wrote: “The first section represents the quiet of a southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitations of the deep, deep sea. The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming after the first darkness of night.”
Above and beyond the theme of nature, Ji Liu’s musicianship also reveals multiple layers of elements and transcendental phenomena in the music. Said Ji Liu: “It has always been my passion to create contrasting and diversified programmes in which the pieces reflect some inherent relationship to each other. I am also fascinated by the countless layers and colours one can make and experiment with on the modern piano, so to record an album with such a variety of piano music composed around the beginning of the 20th century by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Scriabin is a natural and intuitive step in my on-going musical development and which hopefully will lead to my further exploration of contemporary music as well as French Baroque music”.
The pianist also added: “I hope that the pieces I have chosen for the album and my deliberate ordering of the track-listing will help to illuminate my multifaceted perspective to music. This album is my homage to both the golden age of piano playing as well as to the music-making (in every sense) of the first decades of the 20th century and is also very much a tribute to some of the pianists I admire the most, from Rachmaninov and Sofronitsky to Horowitz, Michelangeli and Argerich, to name but a few. Furthermore, pieces like Debussy’s Preludes and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite played important roles in my early musical education in China, so I am proud to include these dear friends from my childhood on my new album. As a young musician of Chinese heritage living in our fast-moving, multicultural community, I really hope to help build mutual understanding between people and to make us all more united through music.”
Saint-Saëns – Carnival of the Animals
Stravinsky – The Firebird
Scriabin – Piano Sonata No.2 in G-sharp minor
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