- Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16
- Piano Concerto in G major
Yundi Li's premiere recording with the Berlin Philharmonic under Seiji Ozawa demonstrates his steadfast, consistent approach to the piano. Unfortunately for him -- and for listeners -- that means only one of the two concertos heard here is performed as it should be. The Prokofiev "Second Piano Concerto," premiered by the composer when he was only 22 years of age, is ideally suited to 24-year-old Li. It is a work filled with youthful energy, bombast, and technical bravura clearly designed to impress. Li knocks this one out of the park. His more-than-ample technique allows him to perform this incredibly demanding work with apparent ease. The extended passages for solo piano are executed with spine-tingling amounts of power and technical precision. Anyone in the market for a riveting performance of only the Prokofiev need look no farther. But then there's still the matter of the Ravel "G major Concerto," a work which, unlike Prokofiev, does not rely on ostentatious displays of technical prowess. Li fails to pull out some introspection and thoughtful interpretation of this much more intimate work. The second movement is disturbingly vertical and angular -- characteristics that worked quite well in Prokofiev but that leave Ravel sounding mechanical. Like many of his earlier recordings, Li again demonstrates himself to be an absolute master of technique, but also as a young artist still searching for deeper musical understanding.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful and complicated, Li is a master of technical prowess and execution. A must have of Li's works.
Li has the virtuosity and fingers to play a mean Prokofiev. My all-time favorites, after 20 years, are the recordings of Horacio Gutierrez and Martha Argerich.
Prokofiev's piano concerto No.2 is not only difficult to play for both the soloist and the orchestra, it is also rather special in the way that it has got the rare wild temperament you seldom hear. This recording was recorded live during the three night's sensational performances in Berlin. Yundi Li together with Seiji Ozawa and Berliner Philharmoiniker had done a marvelous job in giving the audiences in Berlin a memorable night. All the four movements were indeed very well played by Li. Li started the first movement Andantino slowly and expressively, using more rubato than others. When it came to Allegretto, Li increased the speed significantly. For the long cadenza that lasted for 4'10", Li provided good contrast, was expressive, thoughtful and emotional. The difficult passages in the long cadenza were also superbly executed by Li. Although the piano sound was almost drowned by the full orchestra soon after the long cadenza, you do not mind the least as you really need the full orchestra to build the music to its climax. If one insists of hearing the piano more clearly for these few bars, you will have to tone down the orchestra like what the pianist Horacio Gutierrez together with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra had done. Li had taken 11'02" for the first movement, not 11'12" as given in the booklet. The second movement Scherzo was played with an incredible speed by Li , 2'9'' to be exact. It is not 2'17'' as stated in CD booklet. Two minutes and nine seconds is really incredibly fast when one needs to play so many notes non-stop in such a short time. That requires good concentration. Still, the piano and the orchestra were in good unison throughout the second movement. The third movement Intermezzo which took 5' 34" by Li, was played with strong character and good variation of tone color. It was played with more staccato, more spirited and energetic playing that sounded like a march. Horacio Gutierrez had played this movement one minute slower with a rather different mood - milder and more gentle. The fourth movement Allegro tempestoso began with passages that sounded like a cat screaming and jumping wildly on a hot tin plate. Li's steely fingers that produce steely sound, had really done a good job in bringing out the wild temperament of this movement. With more fiery passages and spirited staccato, the concerto finally ended with the piano and the orchestra playing the same fiery note. This movement took Li 10'33", not 11'03" as given in the booklet. If this concerto is played too slowly, it will certainly sound dull and uninteresting. The Prokofiev concert No.2 played by Li here is not only virtuosic, dramatic and colorful, it is also spirited and very expressive. Ravel concerto in G major is rather interesting with its strong rhythms for the first and the third movements. With Li's virtuosic playing, there is no problem of adhering to accurate and precise timing for these two movements. For the second movement, Li had played the beginning of this movement in a more straight forward manner instead of using too much rubato. Some pianists tried hard to squeeze in as much rubato as possible for this part of the second movement to make it more poetic. But that had actually made you lose the direction of flow of the music. There is simply no continuity of flow of music with unnecessary rubato.
Yundi Li had certainly played both Prokofiev concerto No. 2 and Ravel concerto in G major marvellously well. Is this piece Ravel concerto supposed to be dramatic and sad at the same time? Ravel believed that a concerto can be lighthearted and brilliant instead of dramatic. Hence you hear the jazzy like first and the third movements which simulate rushing motor rhythms and perhaps the hustle-bustle sound of the city. Some pianists had played these two movements in a more dramatic way while others less. The jazzy like passages were very well played by Li - crisp, fast and with precise strong rhythm. Benedetti Michelangeli had sounded slightly slower for these passages compared with three other pianists I had heard. The second movement is calm and beautiful. Is the second movement supposed to be sad? Most probably not as sad atmosphere may not blend well with the busy street scene in the first and the third movements. Perhaps one could simulate the second movement with a calm and beautiful scenery seen by a traveler. Yundi Li and Zimerman had played this movement with lesser rubato compared with Benedetti Michelangeli, Julius Katchen, and Martha Argerich. The difference could be due to how one would feel about this movement. If you think it is sad, you may like to play it slower, softer with more rubato and with a serious mood like what Benedetti Michelangeli had played. To me, more rubato does not suit the melody line written for this movement. If one pictures oneself as traveling through a scenic place, one may like to listen to Yundi Li. The steady piano sound from Li's left hand may simulate a traveler on the move. I particularly enjoy Li's playing of this movement, it is lighthearted, calm, beautiful and joyful. Very impressive playing by both Li and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Li's version of Ravel piano concerto in G major is truly impressive and my most favorite.