Yundi Li – Prokofiev & Ravel Piano Concertos/Seiji Ozawa

0 of 5 stars

Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Ravel
Piano Concerto in G

Yundi Li (piano)

Berliner Philharmoniker
Seiji Ozawa

Recorded May 2007 in Philharmonie, Berlin


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: DG 477 6593
Duration: 51 minutes

Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto (arguably the greatest of his five) – placed first on the disc – is from concerts; the recording is just as vivid if rather lacking dimension, and the piano – in music of greater force than Ravel’s example – is a little closer than in the French work. Yundi Li thrives on Prokofiev’s heady concoction of demonstration, flamboyance and danger and enjoys its fantasy and finger-twisting exploits. The first movement can sag if the tempo is too stretched, but not here, for soloist and conductor agree on a volatile approach that switches effortlessly from operatic to fairy-tale, the huge cadenza a massive undertaking and one that Yundi Li’s abilities and charisma cope with effortlessly (save he is too loud too soon) and even becomes reckless before the orchestra returns.

The second movement is scintillating and incisive – daringly fast, too – but the third movement is rather too relentless (this coupled with a recording that has now become too up-front and over-emphasising of the ‘head-banging’ aspects of this concerto). The finale, too, gabbles away. Fine, Yundi Li can play it like this – no problem – and he has a Rolls-Royce orchestra and conductor with him at every turn … but phew! At least the beguiling folk-like melody offers some balm (from 2’16”, but a shame about the all-too-audible edit at 2’34” and the other ‘clunky’ joins in places – including between movements) before we’re off again for a swelling reprise of the plaintive melody and then a hard-driven if always pin-point grandstand finish.

It’s all terrific stuff, to be sure, but one wonders if the recording really does Yundi Li justice; he must have played quieter than this at the concerts! I’m not sure how many times this in-your-face rendition will (could) be aired – for all the musicianship and technical bravura on offer – but the Ravel is the pearl here (one of the best versions, nearly challenging the classic Samson François/André Cluytens taping on EMI). For the Ravel alone, Yundi Li’s disc is recommended, the Prokofiev a red-blooded bonus.

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