CHOPIN 4 Scherzi, 3 Impromptus / Yundi


4 Scherzi
No. 1 op. 20 · No. 2 op. 31
No. 3 op. 39 · No. 4 op. 54

3 Impromptus
No. 1 op. 29 · No. 2 op. 36
No. 3 op. 51
Yundi Li
Int. Release 20 Sep. 2004
0289 474 5162 4

. . . certainly this recording demonstrates that Li has plenty of technique expressed in
a brilliantly expansive and sometimes lyrical manner.

Stunning playing . . . Powerful, punctilious and heroic his performances . . . The recordings, made in Berlin, are excellent.

These performances stand out for their beauty, poise and clarity.

There is plenty of white-hot virtuosity in his accounts . . . The notes whiz by with uncanny clarity, yet Mr. Li brings out bass lines and inner voices beautifully.

. . . Li is young; sterling as his Chopin is already, it may glow even more richly as he matures.

His Liszt Sonata was world-class, and so is this new set of Chopin Scherzos . . . this is a very distinguished recital by an artist with excellent instincts and plenty to say.

A glittering tone, a mastery of rubato and surefire technique - all can be heard in this outstanding release . . . Li stuns the listener . . . His fingers rip through the music with spine-tingling virtuosity. His playing is remarkably clear and precise and yet imbued with grand temperament . . . He never oversteps the bounds of good taste, so elegant and eloquent is his playing.

The performances are loaded with bravura technique quietly and tastefully put to the service of the music . . . Give this highly enjoyable disc 9 out of 10.

His tone is undeniably appealing and the pianism glittering . . . Li is an impressive pianist.

The latest keyboard wizard . . . [Yundi Li] reveals a technique that's powerful enough to toss off Chopin's heroic scherzi as if they were child's play.

Yundi Li dispatches this recital with a panache, poetry and musicality that mark him as a commanding Chopin interpreter.

Li plays the treacherous B-minor Scherzo with astounding digital control, achieving at the same time complete clarity and focus. An air of daring, tempered by absolute poise, pervades his performance. His tone is burnished, and a wide variety of touches further enlivens the music, but he never loses sight of the demonic undercurrents. I have not yet heard anyone play the white-hot scales at the end with the frightening brilliance of Horowitz, but Yundi Li comes close. The B-flat minor is no less impressive . . . Despite the many marvellous aspects of the first three works, with the Fourth Scherzo Li reaches a new and inspired artistic level, all in all, quite amazing in one so young . . . It may be possible but it will indeed be difficult to find finer Chopin playing than this. Certainly it will not be possible to find Chopin played with a higher, more Olympian technical finish.

Es ist vielleicht möglich, aber sicherlich schwierig, eine bessere Chopin-Interpretation zu finden als hier. Es ist bestimmt unmöglich, Chopin mit mehr und souveränerer technischer Vollendung gespielt zu hören.

Il serait peut-être possible, quoique difficile, de trouver un plus beau jeu dans Chopin. Mais il n¿est certainement pas possible de trouver des Chopin joués avec une technique plus exaltée, plus olympienne.

This is a terrific recital . . . there's a tremendous sense of exploration and excitement here which makes for a totally exhilarating package . . . This is high-velocity, fullvoltage

Here what strikes me is his sheer power and technical wizardry. His tempos are brisk, yet the most difficult passages don't seem to present him with any undue challenge. The opening of the first Scherzo is a kind of explosion of energy . . . the scherzos, with their shifts and starts and slightly manic whimsy, seem made for a pianist like Yundi Li, whose muscular approach is also flexible. His tone is beautiful . . .

This is exciting, expressive music, but it also is elegant. Pianist Yundi Li seems to balance excitement and elegance in an artful way, making this a most rewarding recording. Whether making the keyboard thunder or whisper, Li seems to keep everything in balance and perspective, never striving to make a point by pounding or pausing unnecessarily. If you enjoy virtuoso piano music, then this is a recording you really should audition.

This is exciting, expressive music, but it also is elegant . . . Whether making the keyboard thunder or whisper, Li seems to keep everything in balance and perspective . . . If you enjoy virtuoso piano music, than this is a recording you really should audition.

Sein leichter Anschlag und der sparsame Pedaleinsatz sorgen für spektakuläre Klarheit --von der Aufnahmetechnik direkt und ohne Kompromisse eingefangen. Liebe aufs erste Hinhören.

Yundi Lis zweites Chopin-Recital für die Deutsche Grammophon: An der mondänen . . . Präsentation hat sich wenig geändert. Wohl aber klingt die Neue brillanter und räumlicher, sie läst dem Pianisten buchstäblich mehr Spielraum zur dynamischen Entfaltung, und der junge Chopin-Wettbewerb-Gewinner aus China hat die Chance genutzt. Er ist deutlich vorangekommen in den vergangenen beiden Jahren, packt die vier Scherzi, deren immanente Expressivität und Dramatik seinen aktuellen Entwicklungsstand offenbar besonders nahe sind, pianistisch glänzend und mit quasi rhetorischer Freiheit an. Man spürt aus seinem Spiel den entschiedenen künstlerischen Willen, Kraft und emotionale Gewalt der vier großen Stücke eindringlich erlebbar zu machen.

Fulminant . . . Mitreißend die Gefühlsgewalt in diesem Klavierspiel, die atemlose, nie nachlassende Spannung aus schier zerreißenden Kontrasten in heftigstem Forte-Ungestüm. Eine aberwitzige Jagd über weiße und schwarze Tasten . . . ein wildes Aufbegehren, atemberaubend furios, herzzerreißend verzweifelt, manisch rasend gespielt. Dass er -- selbstverständlich -- auch anders kann, zeigte die sanfte Melancholie und lineare Eleganz seiner Impromptus: intensiv erfühlt, feingeistig poetisch. Yundi Lis Chopin ist ein nachschöpferisches Ereignis ersten Ranges.
Chopin: Scherzos · Impromptus

Today's instrumental virtuosos find themselves treading an ever narrower line, with the almost inhuman aspects of practice drills increasingly allied to the need to impose their individual stamp on a constantly growing number of interpretations. The resultant mannerisms and even distortions undoubtedly excite attention, only to fade away again just as quickly. It is impossible to ignore the symptoms of a saturated market. Social support is vanishing, so it is little wonder that the balance is shifting.

In this respect, at least, Yundi Li had a better start in life than many. He was born in Chongqing in the People's Republic of China in 1982 and is now hailed as a national hero in his native country, fulfilling the hopes of a whole nation on the brink of becoming a bourgeois society. The other preconditions were, of course, less favourable. Twenty years ago western classical music was still held in relatively low regard in China, having been violently attacked at the time of the Cultural Revolution as an expression of capitalist aesthetics. The years that followed were a vacuum, and it required a real sense of mission to choose music as a career.

Yundi Li demonstrated this commitment when at the age of four he was so inspired by the sounds of someone playing an accordion in the street that he badgered his largely unmusical parents into buying him one. The fascination of its black and white keys has remained with him to this day. In 1987 he won an accordion competition in his home town, and two years later he switched to the piano. Mozart's father once said that it was far more difficult to drag the young Wolfgang away from the piano than to persuade him to practise. The same must have been true of Yundi Li.

Only on the basis of such enthusiasm can greatness evolve. "While the others were playing football or fighting, I worked on Chopin," Yundi Li once told an interviewer. "He was my first great love." Perhaps it was a kind of spiritual affinity. For Chopin, too, it was the piano that allowed him to conquer the world's centres of music. (The piano was then developing into the instrument that enabled the middle class to define its own image of itself.) "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius." This is how Robert Schumann hailed Chopin in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1831. History does not repeat itself, of course, yet it does at least reveal parallels. Yundi Li was only 18 when he won the 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, the youngest contestant ever to win the Gold Medal.

The most striking aspect of Yundi Li's playing is that he does not appear to be under any pressure. He does not have to prove anything to anyone. And this means that there is an element of weightlessness to the effort involved in playing. In spite of this, Yundi Li does not make things easy for himself: he never cheats in order to get round difficult passages, never smudges them by using the pedal. Every detail is explored to the full, every nuance examined, every phrase immaculately balanced. On this basis he is able to devote himself entirely to what really matters: the music and the character of the individual pieces. Perhaps this is also the reason why he continues to take lessons. His present teacher is Arie Vardi in Hanover.

His experience of life in the Far East may also play a part here: calmness in movement and movement in calmness - just as the calmness of Yundi Li's playing comes from the extraordinary mobility and flexibility of his fingers and hands. "Powerful playing lies in the fingers, not in the feet," he says. "I got this tip from Arie Vardi. For me, the pedal is used primarily to refine the colour. I shape the tone with my back. In that way I avoid tension even while practising, and in this I am also helped by a special breathing technique." The result is a type of piano playing that is exciting precisely because it is so natural. The mysteries and depths lie in the music itself. And these appear even more powerful when played in so wonderfully light and sensitive a way.

We have already used the expression "spiritual affinity".

In 1852 Franz Liszt wrote as follows about Chopin - these are the two composers with whom Yundi Li has been most closely associated until now: "In his playing the great artist reproduced to enchanting effect the animated, bashful or breathless trembling that overwhelms the heart whenever we believe ourselves close to supernatural beings that we are unable to guess, grasp or hold firm. Like a boat borne on a mighty wave, he allowed the melody to undulate to and fro, or he gave it an unspecified motion, as though some airy phenomenon had unexpectedly entered this tangible and palpable world." Yundi Li conjures up this world for us once more.

Chopin was Yundi Li's "first love". "He has an incredible sense of form and an unbelievable sensitivity," the pianist says of him. "His works are imbued by a hint of melancholy, even a longing for death. I think that he suffered from great inner turmoil. But sensibility and a romantic vein are qualities that I share. That was already the case in my childhood." Certainly Chopin did not view musical form simply as a vehicle for musical invention but adopted a more inward approach to it, seeing it as a framework that emphatically helps to determine not just the structure of a piece but also its melodic and harmonic writing. Some forms permeate his entire output - here one thinks especially of the two Polish dances, the polonaise and mazurka. But the four Scherzos and the Impromptus also reflect different creative positions in Chopin's densely compacted oeuvre. (The Scherzo no. 1 in Bminor dates from 1835; no. 2 in Bflat minor from 1837; no. 3 in Csharp minor from 1839/40 and no. 4 in Emajor from 1842, while the impromptus were written between 1837 and 1842. The Fantasie-Impromptu that featured in Yundi Li's earlier recital dates from 1834.)

In each case Chopin concentrates on the characteristics defined by the genre and fills them with a new content. Rhythmically, harmonically and melodically, the rough edges of the Scherzos are of a completely different order from those of the Impromptus, which flow along in a more discursive way, with substantially softer outlines. Here the metre is less regimented, encompassing the motifs in a far less rigid way than is the case with the Scherzos. Chopin is far too sensitively precise not to have sought and found unique solutions in every area of music on the basis of the disparate characteristics of these various genres. Yundi Li effectively demonstrates this with his own sensibility and feeling for Chopin's sense of form.
Reinhard Schulz