Pianist George Li's delicate intensity gives Rachmaninoff's ideas time to unfold

09.05.17
George Li
Sydney Morning Herald

Pianist George Li played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concert No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18 with overarching musical concentration that engendered clarity of shape and melodic lines of expressively calibrated nuance. When required, his playing is brilliantly virtuosic but that alone does not create the absorbing listening, he and the SSO under David Robertson created.

In the often appropriated second movement melody (Seven Year Itch and Bridget Jones' Diary among others) each note was weighted with delicate intensity to build an arch of expansive emotional weight. Throughout the concerto the tempos were unhurried and were drawn out to allow ideas their own time to unfold.

In the expressive second theme of the finale, other pianists underplay it at first to keep more in reserve for the final appearance, yet Li's musical focus nevertheless maintained attention. Continuing the SSO and Robertson's exploration of American John Adams, the opening work, The Chairman Dances, written in connection with an early version of his opera Nixon in China, overlaid skilfully-crafted minimalist layers, with a wide gestural range from the hypnotic to the outrageous.

Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Opus 100 also spanned a wide range reflecting a conflicted Soviet artist, with uplifting optimism in its opening theme (which returns at the end) and sardonic grotesquery, mechanistic parody and human emotionality in between. The SSO and Robertson depart for a tour of China with an inspiring season of memorable performances behind them.
 
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