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An Artist In The Making

New York
Metropolitan Museum
04/24/2004 -  

Frédéric Chopin : Four Scherzi
Franz Liszt : Sonata in B Minor

Yundi Li (piano)

Since winning the Chopin Competition in 2000, Yundi Li has enjoyed an ever-growing popularity, especially in Asia, but his appearances in the concert hall have remained extremely rare. In fact this recital marked his New York recital debut, and we must be thankful to the Met Museum for bringing to Gotham this young, hyper-mediatized, and surely very talented pianist. I shall admit I had slight doubts before the concert, having chosen to end a well-filled Manhattan musical weekend by attending it, but there was definitely much to enjoy there. Li proves to have an extraordinarily strong and noble stage presence, and this is already remarkable for someone his age (he’ll turn 22 this year). He showed a very interesting and individual musical personality througout the evening. If at times his glorious, full-bodied tone might lack subtlety in coloring (especially in the Scherzi), even if for all his strength, nobility and phenomenal technical capacities we might miss some shades of slightly more lyrical touch, he has an absolutely seducing, natural and totally unpretentious way to put forward his ideas, most notably his use of rubato, for which he has been accused of mannerism in some circles. To this reviewer, his way with the music of Chopin never approaches the (sometimes) thin line between authenticity and vulgarity, and I should say that despite previously mentioned weaker points, it did convince me in the most pleasant way.

I have always regarded the Liszt Sonata as one of the few greatest keyboard works ever composed, and therefore my expectations are none other than very high each time I hear it. I should say that Li’s rendition of it was utterly satisfiying, provoking at times the excitement one may feel having the impression to be witnessing at an early stage, the seeds of a (rather) promising artistic growth. Here supporters of intellectual rigour might have been disappointed, but this performance was nonetheless evoluting inside the very rigid boundaries of structural frame, and yet full of poetical, amorous (if not erotic) insight, the many emotional climaxes soaring into luminous truth and energy, the whole thing wrapped in a somewhat unusual elasticity of tempo and unfaltering concentration. Following the end of the offical program, Li offered three dazzling encores to an enraptured audience : Liszt’s La Campanella and Rigoletto Paraphrase, between which he interpolated a charming Oriental piece called Sunflowers. We can only wish to hear more of him in the future.

Renaud Loranger



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