Yundi Live In Beijing captures the full live experience from Yundi’s June 2010 concert in China’s extraordinary new National Centre of the Performing Arts in Beijing. Yundi is famed throughout his homeland since his win in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2000, where he was the first Chinese pianist to win the competition, as well as the youngest ever winner. Here he gives a live recital of works by Chopin, including his great Sonata no 2. His encores will be of Chinese works which have been incredibly popular in his recitals around the world.
The DVD features the complete concert including Chopin Nocturnes Op. 27 no 2 and Op. 48 no 1.
The DVD is not included in the MP3 (digital download) version.
CHOPIN Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante. Piano Sonata No. 2. Mazurkas, op. 33. Nocturnes: in b?, op. 9/1; in E?, op. 9/2; in F?, op. 15/2; in D?, op. 27/2; in c, op. 48/1. Polonaise in A?, op. 53, “Heroic.” Etude in c, op. 10/12, “Revolutionary.” TRAD Colorful Clouds Chasing the Rainbow • Yundi (pn) • EMI 6 31639 2 (DVD & CD: 70:58) Live: Beijing 5/15/2010
Based on this recital, I would have to say that Yundi (formerly known as Yundi Li) is a major pianist. He has a big technique, yet with a sound that is his very own. Watching him on the DVD, one sees that he has a quick, lithe finger stroke that permits him much flexibility in the tone he produces. As a technician, he resembles Alexis Weissenberg a little. Yundi’s Chopin, though, is distinctive. He puts me in mind of hearing Rudolf Serkin perform the preludes in 1975. The two artists have similar qualities of strength, fastidious articulation, and a beautiful tone. The CD begins with what Yundi calls his “signature piece,” the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante. The Andante, played with glowing tone, makes me think of a reverie by a stream. It yields a foretaste of Debussy. The polonaise sounds like a courtly dance performed by a large company of highly dexterous dancers. Yundi plays it with considerable flexibility.
This is the first recital in which Yundi has programmed the “Funeral March” Sonata. He nevertheless presents a completely finished conception of the work. The first movement sounds brisk and impulsive. The B section is like a bardic romance—a medieval story of forbidden love, which is shattered in the coda. The A section of the scherzo sounds ominous, verging on fury. The B section is filled with regret; is it about love lost? The funeral march possesses grandeur with resplendent tone. Its B section is heartbreaking, like a shaft of moonlight shining on a grave. Yundi here demonstrates this music’s relationship to the nocturnes. He brings out an unusual amount of color in the finale. The program notes include a brief poem by Yundi inspired by the final movement. Based on these verses, I think Yundi has more talent as a poet than Alfred Brendel. Overall, this performance of the sonata ranks very high in my estimation, along with Cécile Ousset’s and Louis Lortie’s recordings.
Yundi plays the four mazurkas of op. 33 without a pause, so that they form a suite. I find this very convincing. No. 2, familiar from Les Sylphides, dances along with unrelenting vigor. In No. 4, Yundi displays a subtle, insinuating rubato. His nocturnes are unfailingly lovely. Yundi states that op. 9/1 is his favorite, and treats it to gorgeous tone. This performance reminds us that the night, before electricity, was truly dark and mysterious in Chopin’s time. Op. 9/2 resembles a sentimental song, but with totally unmannered playing. The remaining three nocturnes, including two that appear only on the DVD, are given beautiful readings without affectation. Yundi selects a brisk tempo for the “Heroic” Polonaise, exhibiting brilliant articulation and a real sense of glamour. His first encore, a traditional Chinese song, is a lovely miniature reminiscent of 19th-century parlor music. The recital ends with the “Revolutionary” Etude, interpreted with smoldering passion.
The DVD presents the music in a different order than on the CD. This is a little disconcerting, because the DVD does not include graphics giving the title of each piece. The order of the recital does appear on the menu for the DVD and isn’t hard to remember. The video’s direction is fairly straightforward, although it does include some swirling, overhead shots that make me a little dizzy and seem distracting. The CD does not appear to be unedited, as several moments of applause in the DVD are absent from the CD. Although the audio staff is the same for both the CD and DVD, I find the sound engineering a little warmer on DVD, with more detail and a slight dryness on the CD. I would recommend this album to anyone interested in a distinctive take on this music. Yundi seems to thrive on live music-making. I hope the precedent continues of recording him in recital. He clearly is a Chopin pianist to the manner born.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Numerous previous recordings by Yundi, formerly known as Yundi Li and more properly as Li Yundi, have been reviewed on this site since he first came to prominence a decade ago. These were usually greeted with enthusiasm.
By his own admission, Yundi's speciality is Chopin: this is in fact his fourth all-Chopin disc, the first two released on his first label, Deutsche Grammophon. Both DG and EMI, who signed Yundi last year, have the means and the inclination to hype their artists to the sky, but the usual hagiography has been mercifully toned down for this release at least. That said, the front cover does not even mention Chopin, the biography in the booklet is restrained, and the notes are much more focused on the composer, at least as seen through Yundi's mind.
The CD opens with Chopin's two-for-one, the
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante which Yundi must already have performed more than any other Chopin specialist - indeed he describes it as "my signature piece". Yundi played it on his debut 'Chopin Recital' CD for DG in 2001. It is not one of Chopin's greatest works, but the
Polonaise certainly lives up to its name, and Yundi plays here with far more confidence and feeling than back then.
Elsewhere, Yundi gives particularly eloquent, expressive accounts of the
B minor Mazurka, the
Nocturne in F sharp, and in the simple but profound
Nocturne in E flat there is every sign of an artist coming into maturity. All the works in this programme have been recorded dozens if not hundreds of times before, and Yundi has an awful lot of competition, but he is beginning to develop a style of his own that is sufficiently powerful and different to be desirable without necessarily needing to be better.
A case in point is Yundi's rendition of the magnificent
Piano Sonata in B flat minor, or Chopin's "four unruly children", in Schumann's famous words. The controlled sheer speed of the first and fourth movements seems to coax new sonorities out of Chopin's music. This is not a poetic account by any stretch, the almost thundering March funèbre least of all. It does however offer a strangely alluring muscle-vest alternative.
Yundi rounds off his recital with a barnstorming
Etude in C minor, op.10 no.12 played at a 'Revolutionary' speed - the 2'31 on the track listing includes 25 seconds of applause!
Given that this is a live recording, the sound quality is excellent - the National Centre for the Performing Arts has a fine acoustic. Audiences in China cough and rustle and occasionally burst into applause before the music has finished much as elsewhere, but all within reason.
Very generously, the CD includes a DVD of the same concert, with an extra two
Nocturnes thrown in. Surprisingly perhaps, the order of items on the DVD is different - presumably the true version. The order is: the 5
Nocturnes, followed by the
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, followed by the four
Polonaise and finally the two encores. The DVD production is pleasantly low-key, with good sound and no jaunty or arty camera angles, although the lighting on Yundi is harsh. There are no subtitles either, so anyone unfamiliar with the music must use the chapter headings to identify individual pieces.
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