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Yundi Plays Fryderyk

available at Amazon
Chopin, Nocturnes, Yundi [Li]

(released on April 20, 2010)
EMI 6 08391 2 | 104'27"

Online scores:
Chopin's First Editions Online
We have been reviewing plenty of recordings and concerts devoted to the music of Chopin in this 200th anniversary year. Yundi Li's first release since switching from Deutsche Grammophon to EMI is arguably one of the most keenly anticipated of them. The Chinese pianist, now known simply as Yundi, was the youngest winner at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw -- in 2000, when he was just 18 -- and he has a guileless (not to say artless) way with the less purely virtuosic pieces in the composer's oeuvre, which play to his strengths as a coloristic artist skilled with vignettes sketched with just a few strokes. As noted of one of these nocturnes played by Li at his 2008 recital at Strathmore, he "simply let the tune sing, making for a graceful, peaceful performance, if perhaps undistinguished."

These are some of the most successful moments in this recording, too, which at its best is dreamy and melancholy (like, for example, op. 55/2): after all, simplicity is one of the most difficult things for some musicians to achieve. There is also, when necessary, a big, full-handed broadness (as in op. 48/1) and a mercurial sense of rubato and liberal use of the sustaining pedal that might go too far for some listeners. It is in keeping with what we have heard from this exceptionally talented, if perhaps not yet full formed pianist in the works of Chopin, including the piano concertos, a disc of scherzos and impromptus, and a Chopin recital (including a couple nocturnes, now supplanted by this complete set). It's a good recording, but not to be preferred above the now classic recording of the nocturnes by Maria João Pires (rare enough at this point to be priced at a premium) or the regal Claudio Arrau (re-released in a Philips set with all of the impromptus as a bonus, for less than either Pires or Yundi).


Michael P. Scott said...


I'm not (yet) familiar with the Pires Nocturnes, so can't comment.

But I'm wondering what you think of the new recording of same by Nelson Freire?

Forgive me if I've missed a previous review.


Anonymous said...

I see no reason to call the Pires' occasionally shrill Nocturnes 'classic'. That title would perhaps fit the Rubinstein recordings.


Dr Morpheus said...


I think people should also know about the young composer and pianist Anton Lubchenko:

I am impressed by his craft.

Charles T. Downey said...

I have been meaning to listen to Freire's Nocturnes since Alex Ross picked it as his CD of the week back when it came out. You have not missed a previous review, because I still have not heard it. I don't think I ever received a review copy. I'll get around to hearing it eventually!

Charles T. Downey said...

Herman, you mean you think 'classic' is an insult to the Pires? I only meant that it has quickly moved up the list of many piano fans' favorite interpretations.

As for Rubinstein, that was my first exposure to lots of Chopin pieces, because my piano teacher put his recordings in my hands. I still love the way he plays, even if they are generally not my favorite anymore.

geofflebowski said...

there are lots of splendid performances of these works. ilike,amongst others,Bernard D'Ascoli

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I was unclear. I thought Pires' take on the Nocturnes was not so good, and it will not stay with us like a 'classic' does (this, of course, is a matter of speculation: what I'm really saying is I said goodbye to that set). My sense was Pires took Chopin's belcanto inspiration a little too far and wound up sounding like the pianistic equivalent of the shrieking soprano.


jfl said...

1.) Pires has been re-released at budget price.

2.) Another favorite is Moravec!

Robert said...

It should be noted that the discounted re-release of Pires's Chopin nocturnes linked to here is a selection, not the complete set.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hmm, yes, thanks for that. I've changed the text of my review back to its original form. I will note, however, that one can purchase the entire Pires Nocturnes recording in MP3 format, for those who do that, and for less than $20.

jfl said...

How misleading (apart from the admittedly visible "A Selection" print on the cover).

And *why*? Are the nocturnes really something we need a best-of off? Must be the only disc among the "Grand Prix" series that is thus hacked into bits.