Yundi plays Chopin Nocturnes

Review of Yundi: Chopin Nocturnes
EMI (2CD): 5099960839121

One of Yundi Li’s main assets as a pianist – besides his flawless technique obviously – is that he is both an international superstar Chinese pianist and at the same time not Lang Lang. And while his former label DG’s move to drop the former in favour of the latter in 2008 was entirely understandable from a commercial point of view, from an artistic standpoint it may have been something of a bungle. As this debut release with his new label EMI confirms, Yundi (as he now prefers to be known) really does play Chopin beautifully. And confidently, with a sureness of touch and an easy, unforced rubato that suggest an age much greater than Yundi’s meager 27 years.

Yundi’s laidback style, miles away from Lang’s idiosyncratic extremes, is particularly well suited to the Nocturnes. Not all of them are flawless – the middle section of Op. 9 No. 3 is a wishy-washy haze as, at times, is Op. 15 No. 1, and the lolling G minor from Op 37 is rather plodding – but the ones he gets right really do shine. The first two of Op. 9, for example, are beautifully balanced, the first flowing into the second with the kind of unhurried irresistibility that makes it almost impossible to hear the one without the other. Similarly, the darker-coloured Op. 48 set shows an artist happy to sit back and let Chopin’s finely-wrought phrases emerge naturally: each transition and change of mood is handled with absolute clarity. And if some of the interpretations lack a little in the way of character, that is at any rate far preferable to an excess of it.

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