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Li-Chun Su – 3 CDs

Live at Tudeley Festival, Kent 19 July 2008

Mozart / Haydn / Clementi / Beethoven / Bach [Tudeley TUD 08001]

also at Tudeley Festival July 2008

La Recordanza & Walzer
Sonata Op. 101
Mendelssohn: Prelude & Fugue E minor,
4 Lieder ohne Worte
Variations serieuses54
Rondo capriccioso

Live in Berlin 2006/8/9

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C Sharp BWV 849
Debussy: Feux D’artifice
Liszt: Ungarische Rhapsodie Nr 2

Grieg: Piano Concerto (two pianos)

I was asked to evaluate three CD-Rs by the young fortepianist Li-Chun Su some time ago. As only one is labelled with a number, it is assumed that the others are samplers to exhibit Li-chun’s talent and to generate work.

Firstly, the number of different instruments used, and played idiomatically across the three recordings, is impressive, with the repertoire perfectly selected to highlight the tonal strengths of each.

The Tudeley Festival recordings are made on the resident David Winston Viennese reproductions: the first the copy of the Finchcocks' Rosenberger (c.1790) and the second a copy of a Brodmannn instrument of about 40 years later. The recorded sound of these live concerts is acceptable as a record – with a rather restless and coughing audience – though I feel neither does justice to the live instrument, being too absorbed in atmospheric sound.

However, they do showcase Li-chun’s highly varied dynamic palette. It is wonderful to hear such subtle playing hand-in-hand with the vast tonal variety possible on classic Viennese fortepianos. The use of the moderator (strips of cloth placed between the leather hammers and strings) is well judged and not over-used for all quiet passages – merely as yet another tonal colour.

The third disc is mostly played on an 1886 Erard made in Paris and now living in the Christophori Salon in Berlin. This instrument is revelatory, particularly in the Grieg Piano Concerto. It is wonderful to hear so much clarity and detail and in Li-chun’s hands the precision voicing of chords is educational! It is a shame the anonymous accompanying pianist is not always exact in matters of ensemble.

Secondly, the playing – the principal reason behind these discs. There is much to praise in the touch and sound Li-chun uses and creates on the Erard. She never creates a harsh tone or over plays for the sake of an explosive fortissimo – yet there is power and strength. Similarly, on the Viennese fortepianos, the sound is never “broken” – the effect made when the hammer hits the string too fast and the effect is a woody hard edge to the tone with very little actual note. This is not flawless performing: there are the odd wrong notes throughout, yet the musical experience is not interrupted – it is a very honest musicianship.

The Classical composers, including Beethoven, receive thoughtful performances with space and time to breathe but there is plenty of excitement throughout. I was slightly less comfortable with the quicker Mendelssohn recordings where the speed is simply too fast to observe the myriad of articulation instructions indicated by the composer – and which Li-chun has shown herself so open to in the music of the earlier composers, and in the Grieg (which was the most intelligent and satisfying reading of this over-performed piece I have ever heard). So it was a shame that the playing of Mendelssohn failed to hit the spot for me.

I look forward immensely to further performances from Li-chun Su.

Steven Devine
(Director of Education at Finchcocks Musical Museum)

See also recital reviews at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/LiveEvents08/Li-ChunSu.html

Illustration: Li-Chun Su at Tudely Church, Kent