Beethoven: Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos 8, 14 and 23
PERFORMER: Yundi (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 5049

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The pianist formerly known as Yundi Li has had a chequered discographic career. Initially brandished as a DG artist specialising in Chopin, he was put into the shade by his flamboyant coeval Lang Lang; DG dumped Yundi, and after a period in limbo, EMI picked him up. When their campaign to relaunch him as a Chopinist misfired, he announced that he was forsaking the West and returning home to champion Chinese composers. Meanwhile the merry-go-round turns on: Lang Lang has decamped to Sony, and – hey presto! – Yundi is back with DG.

This new CD is Yundi’s first with Beethoven’s music. The result is a surprise: on this showing he is significantly more attuned to Beethoven than Chopin, his self-proclaimed favourite composer. He chose these works to illustrate Beethoven’s ‘Romantic’ side, yet we seldom hear these works played with such unmannered restraint: the slow movements are not milked for emotion, while the fury of the fast ones is held in check by an admirable refusal to play to the gallery. If the finale of the Moonlight is too mechanical, the first movement of the Appassionata has a noble monumentality. The playing throughout is refreshingly disciplined and clean.

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Michael Church