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Yundi Li: Vienna Recital
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonatas – E, Kk380 [5'18]; G, Kk13 [4'28].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Sonata in C, K330/K300h (1781/3) [17'57].
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval, Op. 9 (1833-1835) [29'43].
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Rapsodie espagnole, S254 (c1863) [13'58].
Yundi Li (piano)
Rec. Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, June 2005. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 5571 [71'30]

A case of misleading packaging here, I fear. When I first read, ' Yundi Li: Vienna Recital' I mistakenly believed this to be a recording of a public recital given in the great hall. Li is certainly playing there, but not a trace of audience is there – this is a studio recording in DG's best style, clean and clinical.

Much the same adjectives could be applied to most of the recital. The Scarlatti sonatas are the exception to that description, being rather romanticised, so much so that the first (Kk380) borders on the Debussian at times. Despite Li's clear affection for both sonatas it is difficult to engage musically with these performances. The second is one of the more exuberant ones, and finds Li evidently trying to be stylish.

The Mozart sonata is clean if somewhat sterile. Not to say that Li cannot be robust - he can - but rather to suggest that Mozart's genius does not really come through. There is more than a suggestion of Li almost preening himself as he plays, admiring his own articulation. A miscalculated first downbeat - read 'a thump' - of the slow movement seals Li's lack of involvement. The finale only acts as confirmation, exhibiting little of the love of life and sheer joy this music contains.

Nice that DG has tracked each movement of Carnaval. Li is better here, if still not at one with his material. The fact that the score's difficulties and awkward corners present no problem to Li should not perhaps surprise us in this day and age. The work opens with a nice sense of showmanship – some character, at last – and jaw-dropping finger-work. Li proves he can project Schumann's more interior side ('Pierrot'), while his letters dance breathlessly. True, 'Pantalon et Colombine' is a rattley Presto and Eusebius is almost at melting point but not quite. At least Li is almost without parallel in his Vivo 'Pause' (the run-in to the finale). A pity though that the finale itself lacks grandeur, as it is this that is left to resonate in our minds.

Finally, some Liszt. This shows off Li's technique - as if we didn't know. Great double-octaves, magnificent facility and a sense of the pianist enjoying himself, at least most of the time. Just a tad more character would have made this truly memorable.

There is not enough here to justify a full-price release. Lavish booklet (fourteen pictures of Li) + Musikverein + excellent recording does not equal rewarding musical experience.

Colin Clarke

 

 



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