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3.4.06

Virtuoso Now; Artist-in-Progress

Short on the heels of his reporting on Peter Serkin comes this review from George A. Pieler of Yundi Li at Strathmore.

Yundi LiWith the proliferation of piano competitions, it’s easy to become jaded at the prospect of yet another young virtuoso passing through town, making his or her on a hopefully enthusiastic public. But media darling (although we all regret this picture ever having been taken)Yundi Li, the first Chinese national to win the prestigious Chopin Competition (2000, the first impressive crop in 25, 30 years - Alex Kobrin came in third that year, jfl wants to know where Ms. Ingrid Fliter is, these days), is definitely a cut above, as he proved Saturday night at Strathmore.

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F. Liszt, h-moll Sonate, Yundi Li

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Schumann, Scarlatti, Mozart, Liszt: Vienna Recital, Yundi Li
Mr. Yundi’s program promised, or threatened, a barrage of virtuoso display, centering as it did on two of the warhorses of Romantic piano: Schumann’s youthful Carnaval and Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor. There was virtuoso display aplenty, as Yundi Li launched into the Schumann like lightning—a bit fast for what is supposed to be a masked procession of characters, who then become the subjects of the vignettes to follow, but definitely exciting. Although more Florestan than Eusebius (for now), his Schumann did not want poetry, nicely characterizing the contrasts in what is by definition an episodic work, wistful in Charivari and dreamy in Chopin. In presenting the opening Prèambule and closing Marche des Davidsbündler with high drama and speed, Yundi may have sought to unify Schumann’s kaleidoscopic sequence. If so, it worked fairly well, though given Yundi Li’s skill the poetic element – so important to Schumann as both composer and critic – will emerge more strongly in years to come.

The Liszt sonata, arguably the summit of Liszt’s piano music, is a through-composed piece complete with leitmotifs and, properly performed, a tight cohesive dramatic narrative, including a fugue (can’t beat a good Romantic fugue) and mordant fade-out conclusion. In one light it is almost a Ring-of-the-Nibelungen in miniature, and indeed Wagner was a big fan. Most of this was told beautifully in Yundi Li’s performance (he has also recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon – an well developed yet exciting reading –Ed.jr.), with not a dull moment and only a bit of that virtuoso overdrive that can – occasionally – divert attention from the music and towards the musician. Much like the Schumann, here was excellence bound to mature into something better, still.

In a way, though, Yundi Li’s opening Mozart sonata, C-major K. 330, gave the best idea of the kind of artist he will become. Mid-mature Mozart, the sonata is indeed ‘lighthearted’ as the program notes claim, but it is not light music. Yundi gave it a wonderful flow and clarity, never becoming either too precious or too pretentious. The central episode of the Andante had a fine lyricism, and the concluding Allegretto recalled the operatic Mozart in his hands.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, In This Corner, Yundi Li (Washington Post, April 3)
Throughout the program Yundi Li’s piano had a fine tone, plenty of strength but no sense of forcing, with dynamics and contrasting voices carefully brought out. Sheer joy was apparent everywhere, his playing and the audience that demanded two encores with enthusiastic ovations: a ‘traditional’ Chinese tune, “Sunflowers” (sounding just like (good) old-fashioned salon music) and Chopin’s f-minor Ballade, a generous addition beautifully rendered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is good to hear this great talent is making an impression and it is good to see his artistic growth tracked. Thanks for the Review, Ionarts.