Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yundi in Jordan Hall

I went to Bean town for 110th Boston marathon, but luckily caught Yundi’s annual US tour in Jordan Hall. In a super hot (all sold-out) concert and a super hot music hall (no air-conditioning), Yundi gave a super hot performance of Mozart, Schumann, Liszt and Chopin.

Yundi is called a pianist in progress. After winning first award in Chopin International Piano Competition in 2000, he studied with Arie Vardi at the Hannover Conservatory of Music. Since he only tours US once a year, American audience can hardly listen to him in person.

Yundi’s recitals haven’t been an exploration to broaden his repertoire. Instead, he only plays what has been recorded before. So far, his recital program is limited to only a few composers, but his latest released CD shows a great leap into maturity. And as usual, the concert night features almost the same program as the CD.

Mozart, Schumann, Liszt and Chopin, to put works from different composers together at one night provides a great challenge to the recitalist. Pletnev’s Carnegie Hall debut in November of 2000 gave an even more dazzling performance ranging from Bach, Beethoven to Chopin, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. But Pletnev is never labeled as specialist in some composer or some period. He is universal in that his Liszt is dramatic, his Chopin refined and thoughtful and his Tchaikovsky virtuoso and creative. But as the youngest winner of Chopin Competition, Yundi is nevertheless regarded as a Chopin master in the next generation. He has been somehow restrained by this fame and for the first few years, his DGG recording had only been limited to Chopin and Liszt before his Vienna recital was released. And the Jordan Hall night showed his potential to Bostonians.

Jordan Hall was almost all wood inside with a high dome ceiling. It is said the music hall secretly lost its charming acoustic sound stage after the overhaul in 1995. But my concern was somewhere else on the night because Jordan Hall was packed with Asian faces, mostly Chinese, or more precisely, Chinese parents with their children. Unfortunately those kids are too young to sit quietly for two hours; they released their energy in applaud relentlessly during the break between each movement. That definitely affected Yundi’s Mozart.

Yundi played the first movement in a flexible breadth backboned with his understanding in structure. His tone was beautiful as usual and his clarity not scarified by the tempo. Unfortunately he somehow over-controlled the piece regarding to expression and volume. Unlike Horowitz, he seldom let notes pop out like fresh spring from no where and every transition was well sensed and expected in advance. It is true that at the age of 83, Horowitz played Mozart more youthful and fresh than Yundi of 24, but the comparison is a little bit unfair since it can be stated that Horowitz’s legendary performance is more youthful than that of anyone. Yundi’s “Andante Cantabile” was a little bit rush at first, but gradually breathed into gentleness and tranquility. He was poetic, refined and natural. It was some moment that I will not forget for years.

Schumann’s “Canaval” suddenly brought the audience into a more theatrical music world and that was necessary considering the packed audience in sweltering hall. Instead of creating a kaleidoscopic array of colors and characters, Yundi played it with little break as if there was strong evidence of internal connection between pieces. He built the power not through sections of notes, but through several pieces. Therefore when thrilling volume and tempo came to apex, it felt unobtrusive and unmannered.

Liszt’s sonata in B minor has been used as a yardstick to every pianist. There are numerous champions in history for the repertoire from Alfred Brendel to Vladimir Horowitz and it has been played in endless ways by those artists with strong personalities like Argerich or Arrau. It is really hard to speak something new for any next-generation pianist. Yundi, in his booklet of the CD, says he feels deep about the piece and sees a whole life happening in this one movement (Like most, he played the sonata without pause) piece. Yundi played those menacing, even violent motives with grand gesture. He tackled those cascades of double octaves in such a furious-speed, hammering way that one was forced to give in by his mighty power. Li made a few wrong notes near the end, but the technique was almost impeccable and no doubt the performance is almost in release-ready perfection. One may disagree with his performance of those middle sections with haunting beautiful melodies; maybe a little bit more coherence was needed to strengthen the architectural power, but again performance of such a demanding work under such an adverse condition (I suspected the temperature was well above 75 degree later) is marvelous and superb.

Chopin's ''Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante" was Yundi’s most favorable and classic performance ever. With elegance, poetry, dynamics and passion, he won the jury in Chopin piano Competition and also showed how his style would be as he matures. If in future that there is another series called “Greatest Pianists in 21st Century”, then Yundi’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante will no doubt be included in his first volume.

People always try to compare Yundi with Langlang. It is true that they share some similarity: both Chinese, both talented, both with spectacular techniques. But it is for sure that they will mature into different types of pianists. I disagree with Fou Ts’ong comments that Langlang is superior to Yundi because they almost play in different music horizon. Langlang is sensational even sensual, outward-expressive, Yundi controlled and refined, thought-inward. To some extent, Yundi is more like Zimmerman who is a romantic perfectionist with formidable precision, while Langlang enjoyed more in live communication under stage light. (That’s why although Langlang’ CDs have only mediocre reviews his concert tour is as hot as ever.) If I have to choose between Yundi with Langlang for one concert, I will choose Langlang because I know there will always be some surprising improvisational moment in Langlang’s concert while Yundi’s concert is as good as his CD. But Yundi’s CD is always worth waiting no matter how long it could be.

Luckily I don’t have to face the challenge of choosing one concert between two. Langlang is schedule to come back to Pittsburgh at season’s finale for Chopin’s No. 1 piano concerto.

1 comment:

allegro said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. The pleasure is mine for discovering yours. I really enjoyed reading your postings. They are very thoughtful. Are you a professional musician? Your reviews certainly are very professional.