Christian Li - Discovering Mendelssohn. © 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd

CD Spotlight

Depth of Feeling and Maturity

GEOFF PEARCE is impressed by Christian Li's new album for Decca Classics

'... assured technique, passion, agility and grace ...'


The young violinist Christian Li shot to fame in 2018 when he won the Junior Category of the Yehudi Menuhin Competition for Young Violinists at the age of ten. He went on to release his first CD - of Vivaldi's Four Seasons - where he directed and performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. On this new CD, he plays works which revolve around the composer Felix Mendelssohn, including some pieces that would have been dear to Mendelssohn's heart.

The first work is Mendelssohn's popular On Wings of Song, beloved by so many, arranged here for strings and harp. It is a nice arrangement, and Christian Li takes the melody and freely embellishes it in the middle of the work. I don't know if the arranger, Simon Parkin, wrote the embellishments, or whether he left them up to the soloist. It is beautifully played, simply and without the undue schmalz that often turns this lovely song into mush. Li phrases beautifully and his intonation is faultless.

Listen — Mendelssohn: On Wings of Song (Six Songs, Op 34)
(485 3987 track 1, 1:31-2:15) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

The next Mendelssohn work, Rondo Capriccioso, Op 14, is a favourite of mine, and here Li is accompanied by Lawrence Matheson. The arrangement is by Abram Yampolsky. The opening introduction is warm and heartfelt, whilst the Rondo is played with lightness, and virtuosity when required. It is warm and lyrical in the more relaxed sections. This is a very impressive recording, especially when you consider that Christian Li is only fifteen. He has the skill and soul of a much more mature artist. The bravura coda is especially impressive.

Listen — Mendelssohn: Presto leggiero (Rondo Capriccioso)
(485 3987 track 3, 4:29-4:52) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

The same artists appear on the next track, the famous 'Serenade' from Schwanengesang, D 957, by Franz Schubert. It has been a favourite of mine since I was a boy and there are many different arrangements. This one is by Mischa Elman, and Christian Li and his associated artist perform this heartfelt song, full of nostalgia, with sensitivity. Difficult to execute passages are performed without apparent effort, and a wide range of tone colours is used.

Listen — Schubert: Serenade (Schwanengesang)
(485 3987 track 4, 2:53-3:44) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

'Spring Song' is one of the most popular of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, Op 62. The arrangement is by Emil Kross, and here Christian Li is accompanied by James Baillieu on piano. This piece requires simplicity but a joyous feeling, and it receives an endearing performance here. The climax is judged just right.

The next three tracks feature Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64, in which Christian Li is joined by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andew Davis. This is a work that is so well known to audiences and violinists alike and there are some truly memorable recordings out there. I do like this recording very much, and every time I listen to it, I enjoy it more. It has warmth, agility, passion and virtuosity, but it is not at all a flashy performance. Everything is considered and balanced without it appearing measured or mannered. This young soloist is confident in his approach and very secure with his technique, his sound is sumptuous, and this is an admirable recording in every respect. I particularly like how he gives the first movement cadenza the space to breathe.

Listen — Mendelssohn: Allegro molto appassionato (Violin Concerto in E minor)
(485 3987 track 6, 9:18-10:12) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

The last movement is so full of irrepressible joy and happiness that one forgets that the requirements on the soloist are exacting.

Listen — Mendelssohn: Allegretto non troppo (Violin Concerto in E minor)
(485 3987 track 8, 0:59-1:46) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

'Erbame Dich' from J S Bach's St Matthew Passion, originally for contralto with violin obbligato, again is a most beloved aria. Here the contralto soloist part is given to the cello, performed by David Berlin. This is a very effective arrangement, and the intricacy of the obbligato and the sorrowful entreaty of the vocal part are effectively portrayed as is the balance between the two parts.

Listen — J S Bach: Erbame Dich, mein Gott (St Matthew Passion)
(485 3987 track 9, 0:58-1:42) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Violin Sonata No 21, K 304 was composed in 1778 when the composer was in Paris. It was written at the time his mother died, and the mood and key of this two movement work - E minor - reflects this. On this recording, Christian Li is accompanied once again by James Baillieu. I have heard a few other recordings of this work, and to date, my favourite was Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler. However, this new recording is every bit as good, and Li and Baillieu make a great partnership.

Listen — Mozart: Allegro (Violin Sonata No 21, K 304)
(485 3987 track 10, 7:45-8:31) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

The disk ends as it began with another work of Mendelssohn arranged by Simon Parkin - the 'Venetian Gondola Song' from Songs Without Words. It is scored simply for guitar - beautifully performed here by Xuefei Yang - and violin. Mendelssohn, on a trip to Venice, noted the guitarists that sometimes accompanied gondolas, so that was the inspiration for this arrangement. I enjoyed both the arrangement and the performance of both artists very much and found it the perfect way to end this disc.

Listen — Mendelssohn: Venetian Gondola Song (Songs Without Words)
(485 3987 track 13, 1:27-2:20) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Whilst at first, I wondered about the wisdom of making a disc with a well-known concerto with smaller pieces, many of which would often almost be considered encores or salon pieces, I have to say that it works very well. Christian Li is an artist that has already impressed, but with his assured technique, passion, agility and grace, and also his depth of musical feeling and maturity, it will be very interesting to watch his musical journey. Bravo.

Copyright © 15 June 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



 << Home              Next review >>