YUNDI / CHOPIN, LISZT Piano Concertos


Piano Concerto No. 1

Piano Concerto No. 1
Philharmonia Orchestra
Andrew Davis
Int. Release 01 Feb. 2007
0289 477 6402 1
Yundi Li shines in his first concerto recording with two pieces that seem tailor-made


Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, S. 124

Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11

Yundi Li, Philharmonia Orchestra, Andrew Davis

Gesamtspielzeit: 56:22

. . . Mr. Li is smoking and sparkling . . . This is an impressive CD . . .

This disc of Liszt and Chopin's and first piano concertos gives ample proof that virtuosity needn't be empty-headed or lit by candelabras . . . you can tell he has something beyound the dazzle of any new star . . . Yundi Li already know when to be subtle even when loud (crucial in Liszt) . . . Yundi Li is never reckless, there is always an artist in firm control, sculpting both tone and phrasing . . . powerful performances from a pianist who is sooooo handsome, and much more.

Mr. Li is smoking and sparkling . . . an impressive CD . . .

Technically dexterous, his performance is a tough interpretation, reminding us Chopin was no drip.

. . . a poet of the keyboard . . . the more introspective passages of both the Liszt and Chopin concertos are deliciously caressed and scented with just enough perfume . . . These thrice-familiar pieces come up sounding fresh as can be, with wonderfully responsive collaboration from Sir Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia.

Yundi Li delivers utterly persuasive accounts of the Liszt and Chopin first piano concertos. The Chopin in particular finds Li in superlative form, allying power and command to a deep, underpinning lyricism, while, in the Liszt, he shows he can light the fireworks as well as anybody.

Twenty-three-year-old Yundi Li, here making his concerto debut on disc, is a member of a new generation of superb, prize-winning keyboard autocrats . . . Blessed with impeccable credentials with a seemingly infallible mechanism, Li's style reminded me of Pollini (winner of the Chopin prize in 1960) whose performances prompted Rubinstein to exclaim, "Technically, he plays better than all of us". I remembered this hint of a proviso when listening to Li's no less intimidating mastery and performances where every note is honed to a glittering, diamond-like perfection. Try the opening of the Liszt or the final pages of the Chopin for the ultimate in streamlined brilliance and shot-from-guns bravura . . . his sheer command carries the day at virtually every point. You will search far and wide to hear a more swashbuckling yet precisely controlled Liszt . . . he has been sumptuously partnered and recorded.

This is an enjoyable disc of two popular concertos. The performances are not just technically dazzling -- the Liszt is a riot of virtuoso playing -- but also demonstrate Yundi Li's poetic side as well . . . It's the Chopin to which I'll return with the most pleasure, I think . . . the Liszt is formidable . . . , the virtuosity effortless . . . in Chopin's E minor Concerto . . . the slow movement is especially lovely. In both concertos the Philharmonia Orchestra under Andrew Davis provide alert and sensitive support. Neither of these works is short of recordings, but Li is a pianist who puts an individual (but never eccentric) stamp on both of them . . . I would certainly recommend this disc . . .

His technique, dramatic interpretations and sumptuous legato tone all marked him as a major artist on the rise . . . his flair and mastery have continued to grow. That's especially apparent in the Liszt Concerto in E-Flat Major . . . Playing it on the CD with a responsive Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis, Li embraces the work's showy, fulsome qualities and turns them to full advantage. The piece becomes a series of engaging grand gestures, exciting but attentively shaped and fused. Chromatic runs are feathery and filigreed. Trills take on a biting edge or softly shining clarity. Chordal passages summon concussive storms from the orchestra. Even the silences sound urgent in this ardent and witty reading.

The Liszt especially is scintillating. From the opening octaves Li seems to throw caution to the wind, which is really the only way to play this concerto, fusing electrifying spontaneity with meticulous control. His virtuosity is not only hugely impressive but also well proportioned. Not since Zimerman's trail-blazing recording in Boston with Ozawa -- amazingly now 20 years old -- can I recall a more energizing performance.

There is an easy muscularity and flexibility to his playing in both works, but also a fair degree of delicacy in the more filigree writing. I also like the way he captures the mischievous humour in the Liszt Concerto's scherzo section, competing against the insistent triangle, and the work's finale is suitably martial in its rhythmic crispness. These satisfying performances are complemented by alert and supportive orchestral playing from the Philharmonia, with Andrew Davis stamping his own mark on the music.

. . . Li's disc is one of his finest achievements to date . . . Li still manages to provide much to enjoy. The bravura elements are certainly all in place, and the recording . . . ensures that every nuance shines through . . .

. . . mit fantastischer Verve fliegt er durch beide Werke auf den Flügeln perlender Fingerfertigkeit, unbändig im Dramatischen ¿ ein junger Löwe fürwahr, der seine Prankenkraft indes nicht roh entfaltet, sondern mit ihr Stolz, Noblesse . . . beschreibt: ein Riesen-Selbstgefühl.

Mit dem Philharmonia Orchestra und Andrew Davis hat man ihm zuverlässige Partner zur Seite gestellt . . . Bei Chopin gräbt Yundi Li tiefer, zaubert besonders in der Romanze ¿ feinnervig von Davis getragen ¿ ohne Gefühlsduselei Stimmiges mit Herzenswärme . . .

Bestrickend in der träumerischen Versonnenheit verraten die lyrischen Buchten Klangsinn. Ein geschmackvoll parfümiertes, mit lockeren Fiorituren gewürztes Spiel prägt auch Chopins 1. Klavierkonzert, dessen Einleitung das Philharmonia Orchestra unter Andrew Davis zum dramatischen Auftakt modelliert.

Yundi Li zählt zu den erfreulichen Erscheinungen der jungen Pianistengeneration . . . Dies sind gelungene Darstellungen, aller Ehren der Musikwelt wert . . . Yundi Li [zeichnet aus], dass sich alle Elemente pianistischen Ingeniums in beinahe vollkommener Harmonie finden. Technisch bleibt Li dem virtuosen Repertoire nichts schuldig. Die Geschmeidigkeit der Läufe und Passagen verblüfft immer wieder. Viel wichtiger aber ist dies: Das Technische gerät nie zum Selbstzweck, ebenso wenig zum "Spielmaterial". Andererseits werden sentimentale Herzensergießungen bemerkenswert konsequent vermieden. Hier ist kein "Naiver" am Werk, sondern ein "frühreifer" (durchaus nicht: altkluger), verantwortungsvoller Musiker . . . In Andrew Davis und dem Philharmonia Orchestra hat Li für dieses Mal kompetente Begleiter gefunden . . .

So präzis hat die Doppeloktavsprünge zu Beginn des Liszt-Konzerts schon lange niemand mehr gemeistert, und so ebenmässig und glasklar ist das Chopinsche Figurenwerk nur selten dargestellt worden . . . bei Chopin überzeugt er nicht nur mit schönem Cantabile-Spiel, sondern auch mit seinem Gespür für harmonische Nuancen.

Il joue le Concerto en mi mineur de Chopin avec une distance expressive, une simplicité, une clarté dans le chant en tout point splendides! On dirait le jeune Pollini . . . C'est impeccable . . . La virtuosité du jeune Chinois est aussi phénoménale que maîtrisée dans le Concerto no. 1 de Liszt . . .

Il réalise la l'un de ses meilleurs disques, depuis une Sonate en si de Liszt tout à fait convaincante. Il est vrai qu'il s'avère remarquablement soutenu par Andrew Davis et le Philharmonia Orchestra, qui donne beaucoup de soin et d'énergie aux interventions orchestrales . . . Yundi Li répond par un jeu avant tout virtuose et démonstratif . . . ce CD constitue . . . un bon produit . . .

. . . Yundi Li, né en 1982, met dans le Premier Concerto en mi mineur sa technique au service de cette richesse d'invention qui caractérise les ¿uvres concertantes de Chopin . . . Il y a dans l'interprétation somptueuse . . . plus de maturité, de science du rubato, de cohérence dans la construction dramatique.

En Liszt, se produce una compleja interrelación entre el piano y los diversos solistas, constituyéndose en una obra de escritura intrincada y brillante que Yundi Li acomete con espíritu soñador. En Chopin, la orquesta es un mero pretexto para desarrollar la parte solista, en la que Li da rienda suelta a un lirismo sereno, como puede comprobarse en el tierno Larghetto, inspirado por un amor de juventud del músico polaco. Bien por Davis y la Philharmonia Orchestra.
Yundi Li and His First Concerto Recording

"One of the greatest talents to surface in years - nay, decades."
Musical America

Yundi Li won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in October 2000, one of the youngest first-prize winners in the competition's history. It was the first time in 15 years that the top prize had been awarded.

In 2001 he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Each recording he has released since has been greeted with universal critical acclaim. The Gramophone wrote of his Chopin debut album: "Everything is naturally and enviably proportioned ... everything fuelled alike by a style and poise way beyond his teenage years." His Liszt recital was earmarked as one of the discs of 2003 by The New York Times: "His account of the Sonata is shattering. The rest of the recital lives up to it, covering the full emotional and pianistic range."

For his fifth disc for the Yellow Label, Yundi Li plays two of the most popular works in the Romantic concerto repertoire, partnered by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis.

"I am very excited about making my first concerto recording - no question about that! - and I really can't wait to hear the result", says the Chinese pianist. "Having played both concertos many times now all over the world, grown with them, and developed my ideas on tempi and nuance, to record them is a thrilling opportunity. Not only are the Liszt and Chopin First Concertos my two favourites from the Romantic era but these are by my two favourite composers from that time. I think audiences and artists agree that they are the two greatest piano geniuses of the 19th century."

Yundi Li was born in 1982 in Chongqing, People's Republic of China. "There was not much Western classical music there at the time I was growing up. In 1990 it was not that open. Since then it has developed very quickly." He first heard the Liszt E flat Concerto when he was nine years old on an ancient 78 rpm recording. "Now my favourite in this work is Richter with Kondrashin. I started learning the work myself when I was 14 and I've been playing it in public since I was 16."

Liszt wrote the work in 1849, revising it in 1853 and again in 1856. It is unusual for its time. Instead of having three or four separate movements unconnected musically (as in the traditional concerto), the concerto links all four movements together, played without a break, and returning to themes he had used earlier in the work as a unifying device. The E flat Concerto was dedicated to Henry Litolff (of "Litolff's Scherzo" fame), and the first performance was given by Liszt himself with Berlioz conducting. It is said that Liszt, whenever he played the concerto, used to sing along with the opening theme, "Das versteht ihr alle nicht!" ("This none of you understands!").

Yundi Li did not encounter the Chopin E minor Concerto until much later. "I was 14 when I moved to the Shenzhen Arts School. Shenzhen is a very open city and very close to Hong Kong. The city had a lot of energy and I was exposed to a wide range of Western culture. There were many more possibilities of contact with outside influences. My pianistic idols at the time were Rubinstein, Cortot, Paderewski and Moiseiwitsch. Moiseiwitsch's recording of the Wagner-Liszt Tannhäuser Overture is pure genius - as is Ignaz Friedman's recordings of the Chopin Mazurkas. I believe that that older generation had a closer connection with the music and its composers, and that they played it with more personality, colour and style. Nowadays that connection is getting - how shall I say? - looser."

Chopin's First Piano Concerto, written after but published before the Second, appeared in 1833. Its famous slow movement (Romanza) was intended, according to the composer "to convey the impression one receives when gazing on a beautiful landscape that evokes in the soul beautiful memories - for example, on a fine moonlit spring night." The first performance took place in Chopin's home city of Warsaw on 11 October 1830. It was the last time he played in Poland. He left three weeks later at the age of 20, never to return.

"I was about 16 when I learned the Chopin at the time I was preparing for the Warsaw Chopin Competition," reveals Yundi Li. "Up till then I had only played a lot of his solo pieces. I had never even heard a recording of the work before I learned it, so I had no pre-conceptions as to how it should sound. Since then, of course, I've heard a huge number of different recordings! I was 18 when I played it in the Warsaw Competition. Now I'm 23. I can't remember how I played it then, only how I play it now in 2006! I also made my American debut with it three years ago with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It's a piece that is very close to my heart."

Yundi Li has won high praise for his Chopin playing in particular. What is it in his personality that makes Chopin's music have such a special appeal for him? "Well, at the moment of course I am known mainly as a Chopin player because of winning the Chopin Competition. But especially at my age, I love energy. Not just in Romantic works but also in composers like Prokofiev. I think there are two sides to my personality: one is poetic, one is very passionate. That is why it is the right time for me to record the Liszt and Chopin concertos. They have a place deep in my heart. In this recording I want to show the public both the poetic and the passionate sides of my playing."
Jeremy Nicholas