Yundi Li

Emperor / Fantasy

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Having established himself as an international star among piano virtuosos, Yundi Li has been steadily conquering the Romantic repertoire, recording many popular albums of the music of Chopin and Liszt, and making inroads on the works of Beethoven and Schumann. This 2014 release of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, "Emperor," and Schumann's Fantasy in C major is another huge release for Deutsche Grammophon, and the performances are characteristic of this Chinese pianist -- energetic, propulsive, fierce, and brilliant, though also brash and hard-edged, with a metallic quality that is often clangorous. Yundi's vigorous displays of technique are incisive and muscular, and his tone cuts cleanly through the Berlin Philharmonic's orchestral accompaniment, so there is a real purpose to his style of attack, even if it sometimes seems unduly harsh. In quieter passages, Yundi pulls back and softens his tone to bring out the lyrical side of the music, but perhaps not enough to balance the ferocity of his playing in the loudest sections. Yundi's solo performance of the Schumann Fantasy is less punchy, perhaps because he doesn't have an orchestra to contend with. But it isn't as warm or expressive as it needs to be, and the ebb and flow of the Fantasy seems to depend mostly on Yundi's chimerical moods, instead of the music's needs. Fans of this dynamic pianist will naturally want this CD, but they should hear different recordings of these pieces to discover other interpretations.

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