|1. Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor op.58|
|2. Grand Polonaise brillante in E flat major with preceding Andante spianato in G major op.22|
|3. Etude in A minor op.10 No.2|
|4. Etude in G flat major op.10 No.5|
|5. Etude in A minor op.25 No.11|
|6. Nocturne in B flat minor op.9 No.1|
|7. Nocturne in E flat major op.9 No.2|
|8. Nocturne in F sharp major op.15 No.2|
|9. Impromptu No.4 in C sharp minor op.posth|
I wasn't expecting very much. My other recordings of Chopin competition winners include an early recording by Argerich shortly after her victory and recordings of Garrick Ohlsson and Krystian Zimerman during the competition. In all cases, these artists have improved considerably as they have matured. They were young when they competed and had much room for growing and maturing.
Yundi Li's debut recording is entirely remarkable by comparison. As soon as he begins the B minor Sonata, one can tell one is in the presence of a refined, mature artist. And he is only 19! After having listened to an absolutely enthralling, fully idiomatic, delicately lyrical performance of the B minor Sonata, I went on to read that he is the youngest person ever to have been awarded the first prize in the Chopin competition. Moreover, they had not given a first prize in the 15 years of competitions prior to year 2000. No less a luminary than Krystian Zimerman turned down a request to teach Mr. Li acknowledging that "I have nothing to teach him."
Highlights of the disc include the B minor Sonata, the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise and the Fantasie Impromptu. The etudes are played with complete technical mastery. The Op. 9 Nocturnes are beautiful and refined. His use of rubato is always tasteful. He never loses the lyrical line even in the most technically demanding passages.
Until I heard Mr. Li I was convinced that one had to be ancestrally or geographically closer to Poland in order to play with such sensitivity to the idiom. I know that many others have made the point that Fou Ts'ong bridged that gap, but I didn't agree. In listening to Ts'ong, I still had the impression that somehow an extra layer of cultural overlay had been added. Ts'ong is a thoughtful and interesting performer, but I always turned to Rubinstein, Zimerman, Davidovich, Czerny-Stefanska, Malcuzynski or Emanuel Ax (or others) to hear the music as I thought it was intended to be played.
I am pleased to say that I can add Yundi Li to this list. And that is a wonderful realization, for it affirms that Chopin's music is great music in that it doesn't have to be limited within cultural boundaries.
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