Chuanyun Li, violinist, performed in a recital at Seattle's Benaroya Hall with works from Prokofiev, Bazzini and Gershwin; concert review by Melinda Bargreen.

Concert Review |

One of the most exciting aspects of concertgoing is witnessing the debut of interesting young talent, and there was excitement galore at Benaroya Hall on Monday evening for the first recital here by Chuanyun Li. Now in his late 20s, the Chinese-born Li is a multiple competition winner with the dazzling technique that it takes to win contests — but he proved that there are more strings to his bow than just a formidable technique.

It certainly is formidable, though: There seems to be nothing this young violinist can’t do. His bow arm is a wonder, with tremendous control and the ability to move faster than a hummingbird. Li’s left hand, whose fingers look as stubby as Itzhak Perlman’s, shares Perlman’s amazing dexterity in untangling the virtuoso pieces.

There’s a wild zest to Li’s playing, a willingness to push the fastest passages to the very brink of what’s possible, and an eagerness to take chances. Despite his technical accuracy and his incredible speed, Li plays with great abandon, and — where appropriate — a lot of soul. There’s a great deal more to this artist than the “fast and loud” mode.

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The program was in some respects deeply old-fashioned, a succession of relatively short virtuoso showpieces that amounted to a night of encores (except for the longer Prokofiev Sonata in D Major and the Franz Waxman “Carmen Fantasy”). From the opening bars of Liszt/Milstein’s “Consolation,” Li poured out a program of big, lush sound that seldom strayed from its pitch center (even in the sustained double stops of the Glazunov Intermezzo). There were gasps from the audience at the wild ride of Bazzini’s “Dance of the Goblins” (“La Ronde des Lutins,” and you can see and hear Li play it on YouTube).

Li’s pianist, Robert Koenig, had his work cut out for him just keeping up with the soloist, much less handling some tricky accompaniments, most notably in the Prokofiev, where the ensemble was sometimes less than ideal. The duo returned, following a rousing ovation, with two encores: “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” and the familiar “Hora Staccato” of Grigoras Dinicu.

Melinda Bargreen: