A Beguiling Salon by a Celebrated Cynosure
Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall
Fryderyk Chopin: Polonaise in A major Op.40, No.1 “Military” – Nocturnes Op.9 Nos.1 and 2, Op.15 No.2, Op.27, No.2, & Op.48, No.1 – Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante Op.22 – 4 Mazurkas Op.33 – Sonata in B flat minor Op.35 “Funeral March” – Polonaise in A flat major Op.53 “Heroic”
Yundi Li (Piano)
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin, it is more than appropriate to invite the Chopin Competition winner Yundi Li for a recital with all Chopin program in Hong Kong. Piano music lovers should be thankful to the HKPO’s effort in bringing the celebrated pianist, their artist-in-residence onto the stage of the Cultural Center. Last time when Mr. Li held a recital in the Cultural Center, the demand of tickets was so popular that there were audiences sitting on the stage. This Monday, although the circumstance was not that feverish, all tickets were sold out far before the commencement of the concert.
With his trademark disheveled hairs, Mr. Li walked onto the stage and sat in front of the piano almost too apathetically, just as what his music delivered. But what was most problematic indeed was not his interpretation, but the programming of the recital. The repertoire in the first half was loosely connected and careless chosen without any coherence, though they are all composed by the same composer (that is the only connection I can think of). He opened the concert with the “Military” Polonaise Op. 40 No. 1, and went on to the composer’s first published Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1. Hardly an association between the two can be discernible. Indeed, unlike Chopin’s late ‘single’ Polonaises Ops. 44, 53 and 61, early polonaises were compiled into sets of two or three because of their relatively simplified and straightforward tonal architectures and formal designs. Is it contextually appropriate to render only the ‘famous’ one among the set as the curtain raiser of a ‘classical’ concert? The audience’s silence and stillness after the first piece was the best answer to the question. I would have preferred it as an encore of a concert instead. This reminded me of Mr. Li’s fellow compatriot Ms. Chen Sa recital last month (read here).
In between each nocturne and the first two movements of the Sonata, there were audience’s applauses interrupting the flow of the recital, and Mr. Li seemed emotionally influenced by the audience’s rudeness. His impatience was exemplified by the impetuous pace, which was clearly not Mr. Li usually style of Chopin. The Andante spianato, though with a superficial eloquence and fluency, was particularly lacking introversion and poetic insight, the paramount elements and the most enchanting ingredients of Chopin’s music. His harshness of tone and percussive touch in some of the loud passages, such as in right-hand octaves of the Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 and the Trio section of the “Military” Polonaise, also compromised the composer’s cantabile character and legato line.
Notwithstanding, Mr. Li’s vaporous pianissimo occasionally brought to the surface some chasteness. And his flowing tempo and lacking of artificiality, though sometimes sounded too plainspoken, were something authentically true to Chopin’s spirit. It is to be hoped that his departure from DG for EMI will bring him some new insights and long-term success rather than a momentary cynosure.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui