Yundi Li plays the repertoire for which he is so highly acclaimed – Chopin and Liszt – with recordings of two of the most popular works from the romantic concerto repertoire. This album is due for international release in February 2007.
Find some musical excerpts on our E-Player and watch his new promo video on our Album Website.
Learn more about Yundi Li on his Official Website at http://www.yundili.com
Your Deutsche Grammophon Web Team
Yundi Li and His First Concerto Recording
"One of the greatest talents to surface in years - nay, decades."
Yundi Li won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in October 2000, one of the youngest first-prize winners in the competition's history. It was the first time in 15 years that the top prize had been awarded.
In 2001 he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Each recording he has released since has been greeted with universal critical acclaim. The Gramophone wrote of his Chopin debut album: "Everything is naturally and enviably proportioned ... everything fuelled alike by a style and poise way beyond his teenage years." His Liszt recital was earmarked as one of the discs of 2003 by The New York Times: "His account of the Sonata is shattering. The rest of the recital lives up to it, covering the full emotional and pianistic range."
For his fifth disc for the Yellow Label, Yundi Li plays two of the most popular works in the Romantic concerto repertoire, partnered by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis.
"I am very excited about making my first concerto recording - no question about that! - and I really can't wait to hear the result", says the Chinese pianist. "Having played both concertos many times now all over the world, grown with them, and developed my ideas on tempi and nuance, to record them is a thrilling opportunity. Not only are the Liszt and Chopin First Concertos my two favourites from the Romantic era but these are by my two favourite composers from that time. I think audiences and artists agree that they are the two greatest piano geniuses of the 19th century."
Yundi Li was born in 1982 in Chongqing, People's Republic of China. "There was not much Western classical music there at the time I was growing up. In 1990 it was not that open. Since then it has developed very quickly." He first heard the Liszt E flat Concerto when he was nine years old on an ancient 78 rpm recording. "Now my favourite in this work is Richter with Kondrashin. I started learning the work myself when I was 14 and I've been playing it in public since I was 16."
Liszt wrote the work in 1849, revising it in 1853 and again in 1856. It is unusual for its time. Instead of having three or four separate movements unconnected musically (as in the traditional concerto), the concerto links all four movements together, played without a break, and returning to themes he had used earlier in the work as a unifying device. The E flat Concerto was dedicated to Henry Litolff (of "Litolff's Scherzo" fame), and the first performance was given by Liszt himself with Berlioz conducting. It is said that Liszt, whenever he played the concerto, used to sing along with the opening theme, "Das versteht ihr alle nicht!" ("This none of you understands!").
Yundi Li did not encounter the Chopin E minor Concerto until much later. "I was 14 when I moved to the Shenzhen Arts School. Shenzhen is a very open city and very close to Hong Kong. The city had a lot of energy and I was exposed to a wide range of Western culture. There were many more possibilities of contact with outside influences. My pianistic idols at the time were Rubinstein, Cortot, Paderewski and Moiseiwitsch. Moiseiwitsch's recording of the Wagner-Liszt Tannhäuser Overture is pure genius - as is Ignaz Friedman's recordings of the Chopin Mazurkas. I believe that that older generation had a closer connection with the music and its composers, and that they played it with more personality, colour and style. Nowadays that connection is getting - how shall I say? - looser."
Chopin's First Piano Concerto, written after but published before the Second, appeared in 1833. Its famous slow movement (Romanza) was intended, according to the composer "to convey the impression one receives when gazing on a beautiful landscape that evokes in the soul beautiful memories - for example, on a fine moonlit spring night." The first performance took place in Chopin's home city of Warsaw on 11 October 1830. It was the last time he played in Poland. He left three weeks later at the age of 20, never to return.
"I was about 16 when I learned the Chopin at the time I was preparing for the Warsaw Chopin Competition," reveals Yundi Li. "Up till then I had only played a lot of his solo pieces. I had never even heard a recording of the work before I learned it, so I had no pre-conceptions as to how it should sound. Since then, of course, I've heard a huge number of different recordings! I was 18 when I played it in the Warsaw Competition. Now I'm 23. I can't remember how I played it then, only how I play it now in 2006! I also made my American debut with it three years ago with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It's a piece that is very close to my heart."
Yundi Li has won high praise for his Chopin playing in particular. What is it in his personality that makes Chopin's music have such a special appeal for him? "Well, at the moment of course I am known mainly as a Chopin player because of winning the Chopin Competition. But especially at my age, I love energy. Not just in Romantic works but also in composers like Prokofiev. I think there are two sides to my personality: one is poetic, one is very passionate. That is why it is the right time for me to record the Liszt and Chopin concertos. They have a place deep in my heart. In this recording I want to show the public both the poetic and the passionate sides of my playing."