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Briefly Noted: Ying Li

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Mozart, Sonatas / Bartók, Suite, Sonata, Ying Li

(released on October 7, 2022)
Decca 00028948581443 | 61'21"
The pianist Ying Li, a 24-year-old Wunderkind, made an auspicious Washington debut this past week. Born in China, where she received her early musical training, she has completed advanced studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School here in the United States, counting Jonathan Biss, Seymour Lipkin, and Robert McDonald among her teachers. Last year she won first prize at the Susan Wadsworth International Auditions, leading to Young Concert Artists presenting her in a solo recital at the Kennedy Center on October 11. She repeats that program this Tuesday at Carnegie Hall.

Ying's debut recording for Decca shows many of the same qualities heard when she played live. Two Mozart sonatas -- K. 281 and 333, both in B-flat major -- frame the disc, clean and spirited in character like the Haydn sonata she played in her concert. Runs, passage work, and trills sparkle, with not a note out of place, but there is considerable sensitivity and dynamic shading as well. She shows admirable patience in the simpler slow movements, with a great variety of voicing and articulation. Although she has impressive virtuosic chops, put to work in the Bartók, she displayed considerable maturity in the understated way she played these sonatas.

Bartók's Piano Sonata is the only piece from this album that Ying played at the Kennedy Center, and it is a blockbuster interpretation. In concert it was perhaps eclipsed by even more demanding pieces like Schumann's Fantasie in C Major, Guido Agosti's suite arrangement of music from Stravinsky's The Firebird, and Qigang Chen's Messiaen-like Instants d'un Opéra de Pékin. By contrast on the disc, the Bartók sonata is the most daunting work, paired with the composer's earlier Suite, full of bouncing jollity. She plays the sonata with ferocious control and percussive touch, but it is far from being only pointed attacks, with the many pulsating parts distinguished from one another by careful voicing. As her concert program showed, there is plenty more athleticism where that came from, as well as poise beyond her years.

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