Bruce Liu


Deutsche Grammophon


At twenty-six years of age, pianist Bruce Liu has already received much acclaim, most prominently by winning the Chopin Competition. His recital disc, Waves, released on Deutsche Grammophon, could easily have been a selection of familiar finger busters from the center of the classical repertoire and been quite popular. Instead, it is a program of French composers: Jean-Phillippe Rameau, Maurice Ravel, and Charles-Valentine Alkan. 


Liu’s Rameau performances take into account the resonance of a modern grand piano, but his tempos, phrasing, and ornaments are well-informed by historical performance practice. The rondeau was a specialty of Rameau’s, and two from his third volume of pieces for harpsichord, Les tendres plaintes and Les Cyclopes, are intricate in their motivic development. Liu’s rendition of the Gavotte and six Doubles from Nouvelle suites de pièces de clavecin, RTC 5, creates an exciting buildup from the doubles. Les sauvages is played with particular dexterity, while the Minuets from RT6 display a jaunty suavity. From the same volume, La Poule serves as an incisive close to the album.


Miroirs, by Ravel, is the highlight of the recording. Liu’s keen understanding of the varied moods and timbral hues of Ravel’s music, such as the rolling waves of Une barque sur l’océan, the off-kilter rhythms and jocularity of Alborada del gracioso, and the beautiful bell tones summoned in La vallée des cloches, displays significant depth of interpretive powers. The suite’s virtuosic demands include nimble passages, challenging pedaling, and detailed balance requirements. The pianist conquers all of these in an emotive rendering that is a distinctive addition to recorded outings of Miroirs. 


Alkan’s music is not as well known as the other two composers, but the championing of his work by Liu may introduce it to a number of listeners. The Barcarolle from Recueil des chants has a mysterious character. Among the several harmonic twists and turns is a propensity for the flatted-seventh of the mixolydian mode. If this miniature serves as an amuse-bouche, the other Alkan piece on the recording is a seven-course dinner: 12 Etudes in All the Minor Keys, Op. 39, no. 12, le festin D’Ésope. A theme with twenty-five variations, it is stunningly challenging, and also quite diverse in the moods and techniques displayed as the piece progresses. In places there is Lisztian virtuosity, elsewhere dissonant treatment of the theme with crunching seconds alongside it that seems to presage the work of Busoni. When Variation 25 concludes, the listener will likely be exhilarated, if slightly exhausted. I can’t even imagine how Liu feels. 


The quality of performance and versatility of repertoire make this one of my favorite recordings of 2023.


-Christian Carey