Yundi: Live in Beijing

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat, Op. 35; Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E flat, Op. 22; Mazurkas, Op. 33; Nocturnes; Encores; plus DVD of complete concert including Nocturnes Op. 27 No. 2 & Op. 48, No. 1
PERFORMER: Yundi (piano)

Winner of the 2000 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Yundi knows how to produce a ‘Chopin sound’. That much is clear from the start of his new disc, where he brings crystalline poise and a bel canto line to the opening of the Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante. There are further glimpses of this in such pieces as the Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 in B flat minor, but too much else here is disappointing, if not actually the antithesis of what Chopin ought to be about. And even Yundi himself has played that opening work better. Listen to the Polskie Nagrania recordings made at the competition 11 years ago, and it is clear that the artist formerly known as Yundi Li has lost more than just half his name in a bid to be marketable: much of the charm in his playing has evaporated too.
Matters get more serious at the centre of this disc. His account of the Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor is heartless, showing little feeling for how the music’s Romanticism is rooted in a Classical structure, and Yundi is not even able to connect emotionally with the Funeral March. The ghostly wind over the graveyard in the finale emerges as a perfunctory scramble. It’s not necessary to be Polish to get to the soul of the mazurkas (think of Fou Ts’ong), but the stabbing rhythms in Op. 33 No. 2 are wide of the mark. The accompanying DVD confirms an engaging platform presence, but this is a pointless addition to the Chopin discography. John Allison