As the era of the compact disc became established there were suggestions that making more recordings of the great classics was pointless, after all collectors could buy a CD that would last for ever so why buy new recordings. Thankfully, the record companies have continued to record the classical repertoire and we now have the interpretations of younger artists preserved in many fine recordings.
The latest of the younger generation to record Beethoven is Yundi Li www.yundimusic.com. who, on his latest release from Deutsche Grammophon, plays Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor Op.13 ‘Pathetique’, Piano Sonata No.14 in C sharp minor Op.27, No.2 ‘Moonlight’ and Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’.
First prize winner at the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, in 2000, at the age of 18, Yundi became the youngest winner in the history of the competition. He began studying piano at the age of seven and, for nine years, studied with one of China's most renowned piano teachers Dan Zhaoyi. In 1994, he entered the Shenzhen Arts School, Shenzhen, China www.szas.com and, later, studied at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, in Germany www.hmtm-hannover.de.
Yundi has since performed around the world at such venues at Carnegie Hall, New York, the Royal Festival Hall, London, Musikverein, Vienna, Alte Opera, Frankfurt, Herkulessaal, Munich, Konzerthaus, Berlin, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Salle Pleyel, Paris, Mariinsky Concert Hall, St. Petersburg, the National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing, Seoul Arts Centre and Suntory Hall, Tokyo. His performances of Chopin resulted in his being presented with a Gold Medal for Merit to Culture ‘Gloria Artis’ by the Government of Poland in 2010.
Yundi has given master-classes at the Royal College of Music, London, Cambridge University and Qinghua University in Beijing. In 2012, he was appointed Associate Dean and Professor of the Piano Faculty at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music www.sccm.cn . He is an ambassador of the Red Cross Society of China www.redcross.org.cn.
Yundi first signed to Deutsche Grammophon in 2002, releasing a number of internationally acclaimed recordings on the label. In 2007, he became the first Chinese pianist to record live alongside the Berliner Philharmoniker and Seiji Ozawa with performances of piano concertos by Ravel and Prokofiev, a disc that was met with enthusiastic reviews and named ‘Editor’s Choice’ by Gramophone magazine.
Written by the 27 year old composer in 1798, the Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor Op.13 ‘Pathetique’ was named Grande sonate pathétique by Beethoven's publisher. The sonata opens with a nicely paced grave, paving the way for the allegro molto e con brio where Yundi surges ahead, showing his formidable technique, full of fire and wonderful control of dynamics and tempo. The adagio cantabile receives a beautifully tranquil, thoughtful performance and Yundi provides a beautifully attractive allegro rondo where his lovely passagework is smooth, silken and flowing, lifting the final movement of this work.
Completed in 1801 the Piano Sonata No.14 in C sharp minor op.27 No.2 ‘Moonlight’ is headed Sonata quasi una fantasia. It was not until the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860) remarked that the first movement was like ‘the effect of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne’ that the title stuck. Yundi brings some entrancing playing to the Adagio sostenuto of this sonata. There is some lovely phrasing and texture in the central climax and, as the movement draws to a close, playing of sensitivity and control. The little allegretto is nicely pointed with a lovely swagger but in the Presto agitato – adagio – presto agitato, Yundi really lets rip in playing of formidable brilliance and flair, so that when the central adagio arrives it seems merely a tense, quiet pause, full of expectation. There is phenomenal playing here, with the music buzzing with fire and tension.
With Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ the name only appeared posthumously, in 1838, when a four hand arrangement of the work was made. With this sonata Yundi seems even more at home, with playing that brings out so much texture, feeling and tension. The opening Allegro assai has a spontaneous feel before the allegro proper begins. There is always a feeling in Yundi’s playing of re-creating this wonderful work with absolutely nothing routine. Yundi has full control of his passionate playing, thereby revealing detail that could easily be lost. There is a lovely rhythmic bounce to much of his playing and such spontaneity as well, with a terrific coda, thunderous, but leading beautifully to the quiet ending.
In the chorale like andante con moto, there is a soft, controlled feel, as though holding in so much passion and nervous energy that is about to burst, with Yundi’s rhythmic bass line providing the forward movement. In the allegro ma non troppo-Presto all the nervous energy bursts out, driving ahead at a terrific pace with some with tremendous playing and spectacularly virtuoso coda. This is very fine Beethoven playing.
Although Yundi has great power and passion in the faster sections of these works that is not to say that his slower, quieter playing is any less compelling. He seems to be able to hold back, bringing a stillness and inner tension to these moments. The recording from the Teldex Studio, Berlin is excellent.