Yundi Li

Yundi: Live in Beijing

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When it appeared on the EMI Classics label in 2011, this album was notable for those tracking the gradual expansion of Chinese influence in the world of classical music and beyond: it did not originate with EMI but was licensed from China Arts International Limited. The enthusiastic applause he received in this live recording, made in 2010 at Beijing's acoustically strong National Center of the Performing Arts, is homegrown. Not that single-named pianist Yundi (formerly Li Yundi, and the child of two steel mill workers) was entirely a mainland Chinese product; he was partly trained in Germany, made his name as the youngest-ever winner of the Frédéric Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, and later based himself in Hong Kong. But if there is a Chinese school as there used to be a Russian school, Yundi is of it. He has something of Lang Lang's muscular ability to set the terms of the musical atmosphere with confident bravura gestures. In a nearly all-Chopin program, his specialty, he grabs the listener's attention with a brilliant performance of a work that generally isn't high in the Chopin rankings, the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op. 22. The sets of mazurkas and nocturnes later on in the program are equally compelling, with a sort of electric flow. Yundi manages to create a dazzling effect without overloading his playing with virtuoso effects. The overall effect is impressive, even if there are more poetic performances of the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 22, with its familiar funeral march; Yundi contributes a little poem inspired by the finale that misses, as does his performance, its weirdly unsettling quality. There is a quite Chopin-like arrangement of a traditional Chinese melody, together with the Chopin Etude in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12 ("Revolutionary"), as an encore. Booklet notes are in English, French, and German, and CD versions of this release are accompanied by a DVD of the same performance, including two additional nocturnes.

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