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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 (orig. 1912-13, rewritten 1923) [30:13]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (1929Ė31) [20:51]
Yundi Li (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
rec. May 2007, GroŖer Saal, Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4776593 [51:14]

 

Experience Classicsonline


The young Chinese pianist Yundi Li came to international prominence by winning the first prize at the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in October 2000. This is now Liís sixth recording for the prestigious German yellow label and this release of works that enjoyed contrasting fortunes, is one of his finest. Here Li makes his debut with the BPO and re-establishes a working relationship with Maestro Ozawa; an enviable collaboration. 

The opening concerto on the disc is Prokofievís Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor. Written in 1912-13 this was premiered in August 1913 at Pavlovsk, near Saint Petersburg under conductor Alexander Aslanov with the twenty-two year old composer as soloist. During the troubles of the 1917 Revolution the score was lost. However, Prokofievís working sketches were found in 1923 allowing the composer to rewrite the entire work. Prokofiev was again the soloist at the premiere of rewritten version in May 1924 in Paris under Koussevitzky. It was received with derision both from audience and critics and remains one of Prokofievís lesser performed concertos. It seems that Prokofiev dedicated the score in memory of his close friend the twenty-two year old pianist Max Schmidthof who had committed suicide by shooting himself. 

Yundi Li is on his finest form with the G minor Concerto; a score that communicates itself as a veritable patchwork quilt of colours and ideas. The start and ending of the Andantino has a reflective quality, situated either side of spiky and edgy rhythms in the body of a movement that increases in drama, containing episodes of dark excitement. The short Scherzo; Vivace has a character of perpetual motion. Li conveys agitation and restlessness together with whirling passages of thorny quality. With significant assurance the impressive Li accentuates the harsh and savage Intermezzo; Allegro moderato. Its menacing rhythms are a constant feature as is the underlying martial tread. The concluding Allegro tempestoso covers a wide spectrum of colours. Opening frenetically and threateningly Li develops the mood from 1:33-3:31 into music of a more introspective character before cranking up the tension and the storm. At 5:37-6:58 a slower, darker passage gives way to a rapid increase in strength and tension. After a brief respite at 8:55-9:25 Li revels in the dramatic and loud conclusion. Recorded live at the Philharmonie there is audience applause and some general noise audible but nothing too intrusive. 

My recommended recording of the Prokofiev score is the exciting and passionate 1990 Concertgebouw, Amsterdam interpretation from soloist Horacio Gutierrez with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Neeme Jšrvi on Chandos CHAN 8889 (c/w Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3). Gutierrezís Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 are also part of a set of the complete Piano Concertos with soloist Boris Berman on Piano Concertos 1, 4 and 5 on Chandos CHAN 8938 (2).

The second work is Ravelís high spirited and popular Piano Concerto in G major. The first of Ravelís two concertos, the G major was composed in 1929Ė31. Marguerite Long was the soloist at the premiere in January 1932 in Paris with the composer conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra. The Concerto utilises the traditional three movement form employing a contrasting style within and between movements.

In the opening Allegramente with its jazzy undercurrents the confident Yundi Li provides a wide spectrum of colourful and significant imagination. Especially memorable is how time seems to stand still in Liís assuredly meditative reading of the beautiful central Adagio assai. The concluding Presto with its jazzy syncopations is played with brilliance and excitement by this highly talented soloist. No audience was present for this recording - again made in the Berlin Philharmonie. The sound quality is first class.

I have on vinyl what I consider to be the finest recording of the Ravel from soloist Leonard Bernstein conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. For me Bernstein is sublimely poetic in the Adagio assai and enviably sparkling in the outer movements. Recorded in 1958 in New York City I have the version on a 1982 vinyl LP entitled The Bernstein Years, Vol. V on CBS Classics 60338 (c/w Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2).

At only fifty-one minutes the total playing time of this DG disc is derisory but the excellent performances and sound quality are first rate. The disappointing booklet notes, presented in the form of brief discussion between Li and Ozawa, are in effect no more than a publicity profile.

Yundi Li is a performer thoroughly inside the music. He is well able to convey excitement and drama in the Allegros and affecting emotion in the slow movements. The support from Maestro Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic is of an elevated standard and the vivid recording imparts significant orchestral detail.

Michael Cookson


 




 


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