Prokofiev; Ravel

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev; Ravel
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev; Ravel
WORKS: Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2; Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
PERFORMER: Yundi Li (piano); Berlin PO/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6593

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Yundi Li’s inspired pairing of Prokofiev’s tyrannosaurus rex and Ravel’s iridescent flying fish gives more than enough food for thought. Li already places himself among the twenty or so pianists able to play every note of Prokofiev’s colossal Second Piano Concerto, and his security is staggering. As the first movement cadenza moves on to three staves, he explores new, resonant dimensions to his not-so-humble keyboard; the toccata is taken as fast as it can decently go without losing either orchestral or soloistic focus – ‘I love it when my Ferrari accelerates from 0 to 100km in four seconds’, says Li says in the booklet interview – while the hair-raising aspects of the last two movements remain breathtakingly clear. Yet in the quieter stalking themes the moonshine introspectively charted by Neeme Järvi’s Horacio Gutierrez (on Chandos) doesn’t really emerge here: the finale, in particular, badly needs a heart to its simple melody. Could Li really be the tone-poet both Ozawa and one of the critics quoted on the cover sticker claim? With Ravel’s more translucent moments, it’s a different matter. And this is a performance that bristles both on the keyboard and in a series of fabulous orchestral solos. The Berlin Philharmonic have more fun even than they did in 1968 with Abbado for Argerich, and under Ozawa it sounds like an orchestra right at the top of its game. Zimerman and Boulez may tread more subtly, but this is a lurid delight. And if the orchestra is kept at bay behind a slightly over-bright piano miking, that’s preferable to DG’s more usual spotlighting of orchestral strings. David Nice