> CHOPIN recital Li [AT]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 3 op. 58 (1844) [26.59]
Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante op. 22 (1834) [14.28]
Étude op. 10 No. 2 (1830) [1.25]
Étude op. 10 No. 5 (1830) [1.40]
Étude op. 25 No. 11 "Winter Wind" (1834) [3.40]
Nocturne op. 9 No. 1 (1830) [5.46]
Nocturne op. 9 No. 2 (1830) [4.23]
Nocturne op. 15 No. 2 (1831) [3.33]
Impromptu op. 66 (1834) [4.58]
Yundi Li, piano
Rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin, 9/2001


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Yundi Li looks like a twit. Some record company executive has obviously marched him into their study and told him to GET TRENDY, but the fashion shoot that accompanies this disc is preposterous. Included in The Look are a ridiculous pair of flares, a suit white enough for an FA Cup Final, and the same gormless stare that Ronaldo has when he models clothes. Given the hagiography that takes the place of sleeve notes, DG are obviously looking for major artist build, and are sparing no promotional effort.

But I forgive him because he is a genius. Winner, at 19, of the last Warsaw Chopin Competition, the boy can obviously play a bit. He is building on that success by debuting with an all-Chopin recital that reveals an excellent technique and a beautiful touch. Apparently an admirer of Zimmerman, Yundi Li certainly achieves that great pianist’s thoughtful clarity and attention to detail, albeit at slightly less tardy tempos. From the opening arpeggiated chord of the Third Sonata, which forms the meat of this recital disc, his approach to the Chopin soundworld is apparent: clean – no wash of pedal here thank you very much – and constantly forward moving. It is a powerful performance that marks Yundi Li as a player of real technique and talent.

All this is very well, but is there a musical personality at work here? The answer I think is a qualified yes. The most obvious place to measure this is the ubiquitous B flat minor nocturne, by far the most famous piece included in this recital and one that has had the attention of all the great pianists. Compared to, say, the magnificent and deeply felt version by Maria João Pires, Yundi Li may seem to lack a little poetry. Everything is technically perfect – rubato, dynamics and important modulations all delicately executed – and the initial impression is one of dryness (anyone used to the effusive Barenboim version would certainly think so). But why should Chopin come with a box of hankies? Like the Boulez Ring, this is a style that strips away the self-indulgent love of a sound in favour of a clarity that reveals other, equally interesting harmonic details. This analysis I think applies to the disc as a whole. There is a little way to go – there is certainly room for more poetry – but it is a path worth pursuing and this disc can be given a qualified welcome as the first step along it.

Aidan Twomey

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