Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor; Liebeslied (Widmung); La campanella; Liebestraum No. 3; Venezia e Napoli; Rigoletto Paraphrase

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COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Liebeslied (Widmung); La campanella; Liebestraum No. 3; Venezia e Napoli; Rigoletto Paraphrase
PERFORMER: Yundi Li (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 471 585-2
When only 18, the Chinese pianist Yundi Li won the 2000 Warsaw Chopin Competition. That led to the DG recording contract of which this big Liszt CD is second fruit. (Big in pianistic terms, that is: at 58 minutes it’s hardly of acceptable length.) The intelligent adult listener is advised to avoid perusing the accompanying booklet first, with its fan-mag array of Li photographs and idiot-level interview article – sample quotation from the pianist: ‘I can bring to this music all the ideas and thoughts that I have about my life’ – and get straight to the performances.

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Another caution: the Sonata is best left for last. The shorter works manifest strong talent: stamina, bold attack, sparkling agility, delicacy and (where needed) weight in La campanella and Venezia e Napoli, sensitive lyrical responses in the Rigoletto Paraphrase and ‘Widmung’ transcription, a Liebestraum No. 3 affectingly phrased and shaped (if without the aristocratic distinction of, say, Curzon’s 1963 Decca account). An attractive, highly individual young performer is on display here.

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The Sonata possesses all those same qualities – but it’s a piecemeal affair, its highly dramatised sections spliced together, not grandly unified in the visionary way that more mature artistry tends to confer, and that so many truly significant recordings (by Arrau, Bolet, Curzon, Gilels, Horowitz, Richter and Zimerman, to name only a few) have achieved. Since the Sonata is one of the key compositions of the 19th century, the first-time explorer is prudently directed to the above list rather than to Yundi Li. Max Loppert