Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin: Yundi Li (piano),
QEH, 15.05.2006 (CC)
On paper, Yundi Li has it all. Not least among his achievements
is a Deutsche Grammophon contract. His victory at the
Chopin Competition in 2000 is no small feat, either. And
the media hype had worked, too – he was greeted
by a completely full QEH for this 'expanded' recital.
Originally the programme had seemed distinctly short measure
– two Chopin Scherzos, the Andante spianato and
the Liszt B minor Sonata. This grew into Mozart Sonata,
K330, Schumann Carnaval, Liszt B minor and the
Chopin Andante spianato, altogether a more realistic proposition.
For all the technical challenges that spilled from most
of the scores, it was the Mozart that stretched Li the
most. From the initial stab at the first note through
the pedestrian left-hand accompaniments, the clipped rhythms
and the rhythmic instabilities it was clear this was not
Li's music. Worse, his long-range hearing needs developing.
If one loses a sense of line and/or structure in Mozart,
the resulting set of gestures simply do not hang - such
was the case here. The slow movement, if performed like
this at the Wigmore Hall with its over-compensating tonal
projection, would have been near deafening. Ornaments
lost any sense of spontaneity. If the finale had some
moments of subtlety, it still features hard-edged sound.
Schumann's Carnaval is no interpretative walk in
the park, either. Here is a real sequence of smaller pieces,
but there has to be an over-reaching thread also. It is
true Li enjoyed himself more here, and if the music could
be nice and playful it still remained true that more colour
was required. Bolet (when I heard him live at the RFH)
had an infinite palette at his command – Li was
more black and white with occasional sepia. True, he avoided
bombast and set the occasional land speed record, but
rarely did Schumann peek out from between the notes.
Technically, Liszt's B minor Sonata was stunning. Li's
sound was bright but not metallic, his octaves jaw-dropping
and his finger clarity superb. But again there was the
feeling of a sequence of only vaguely connected moments
(the initial bare octaves – bumps with rests in
between – encapsulating Li's reading in microcosm).
No wonder the audience was restless in the non-virtuoso
passages; no wonder the calm after the climactic storm
sounded forced. At the close, the audience applauded immediately.
No basking in the post-Lisztian afterglow here, but somehow
that seemed appropriate.
Finally Chopin's Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise,
complete with lumpy phrasing. And if mathematics can refer
to something 'tending towards zero', then I can refer
to Li 'tending towards the intimate'. The implication
was there, just as the swagger of the Polonaise was more
implied than realized.
There is no doubting Li's technical ability, but he needs
a time-out to really come to terms with what lies beneath
the surface of these wonderful pieces. Personally I would
like to hear him again in five years' time. It really
was too soon to present these works.