WORKS: A film by Barbara Willis Sweete: plus bonus: Yundi Li plays at La Roque d’Anthéron – Chopin: Scherzos, Opp. 20, 31, 39 & 54; Liszt: Grandes Études de Paganini – La campanella
PERFORMER: Yundi (piano); Berlin PO/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 3079058 (NTSC system; Dolby 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Shown on Arte in 2004, this documentary about the pianist formerly known as Yundi Li sometimes scores more on what it doesn’t say than what it does. Unnarrated but for linking supertitles, the documentary lets the images speak for themselves.
It’s a straightforward story: ambitious parents back up abusive piano teacher by hitting child with knitting needles to help him practise; boy wins Chopin Competition aged 18, becomes famous, plays with Seiji Ozawa and Berlin Philharmonic.
Now family misses him. As punctuation, hundreds of Chinese children play the piano en masse, and a waxwork is made of Yundi. A metaphor, perhaps: how much is this local hero an artificial construction?
Yundi seems a pleasant, enthusiastic fellow, yet it’s almost as if he only comes fully to life at his piano. It’s lovely to see his partnership with the fatherly Ozawa as they practise the Prokofiev Second Concerto. Still, note the withering look between members of the orchestra when Ozawa tells them Yundi wants to take it even faster.
The film includes interesting observations of life in a fast-changing China and the pressures of a starry career. Yet the highlight is the bonus recital from La Roque d’Anthéron, with Yundi performing the Chopin Scherzos and Liszt’s La campanella.
As long as he stays on the rails, he’s a fine talent. Jessica Duchen