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Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 2; Ravel / Li, Ozawa, Et Al

Release Date: 11/13/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001017502   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sergei ProkofievMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Yundi Li
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Power and brilliance, and enchantment too, from a marvellous young pianist

Yundi Li goes from strength to strength. Deeply thoughtful and formidably virtuosic, he makes light work of Prokofiev’s nightmarish technical demands. This is a really superb disc. As for Seiji Ozawa, he comes in for some bad press these days but here he is a quite wonderful accompanist, coaxing haunting, unforgettable sounds from the Berlin Phil.

-- Gramophone [5/2008]

The brilliant young Chinese pianist Yundi Li excels in Prokofiev’s volatile, technically daunting Piano Concerto No. 2. He plays with expansive lyricism, surging power and, when called
Read more for, incisive attack. There is also a tart, exuberant and (in the Adagio assai) dreamy account of the Ravel concerto. Seiji Ozawa draws luminous sounds from the great Berlin Philharmonic.

-- Anthony Tommasini, New York Times (11/30/2007)


PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2. 1 RAVEL Piano Concerto in G Yundi Li (pn); Seiji Ozawa, cond; Berlin P DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001017502 (58:03) Live: Berlin 5/2007 1

Chinese pianist Yundi Li (b. 1982) has lately become, along with his exact contemporary and compatriot, Lang Lang, a media “sensation” in the West. Advertising and shrewd artist management have propelled both of them to recognition and favor among concertgoing audiences, though the more discerning professional critical reviews I’ve read tend to be more reserved in their acclaim, including a number in this journal.

This, I will admit, is my first encounter with Li, who won the International Frederick Chopin Competition at the age of 18, and an impressive first encounter it is. As Adrian Corleonis put it in 27:3, Li’s “command of the keyboard is so preternaturally embracing—including, when he wishes, a veritable peacock’s tail of piquant color—that one experiences his playing as an extension of his imagination.” These are not easy pieces to play, but their technical difficulties are subsumed by Li’s uncanny ear for Prokofiev’s and Ravel’s coloristic effects, so that what we hear is the most effortless realization of these vibrant and spiky scores.

There is, of course, big-time competition in both of these concertos. In the Prokofiev, I still have a fondness for Ashkenazy, though a performance by Vladimir Feltsman with Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra, now available on a midpriced Sony CD, runs Ashkenazy a close race. But among Prokoviev’s five piano concertos, the No. 2 is not the most often recorded, and this new one with Yundi Li and Seiji Ozawa—who is at least as colorful as Li, if not more so—and the Berlin Philharmonic is a highly desirable and recommended reading. I should mention also that the Prokofiev is a live recording, captured in Berlin’s Grosser Saal in May 2007.

Li’s and Ozawa’s Ravel Concerto is equally a success, but here the competition is a bit more daunting. With the same orchestra, and for the same label, Martha Argerich joined Claudio Abbado in 1967 for what may be the ne plus ultra performance of the work. There are others of course too—Cécile Ousset with Simon Rattle and Krystian Zimerman with Pierre Boulez, to name just two—but Argerich is a hard act to follow. Li’s and Ozawa’s reading, however, definitely belongs in the same class with the very best.

I am always pleased when I can accord an artist whose acquaintance I am making for the first time such a strong buy recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 16 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Yundi Li (Piano)
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913/1923; USSR 
Date of Recording: 5/2007 
Venue:  Live Berlin, Germany 
Concerto for Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Yundi Li (Piano)
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1931; France 

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