The artist formerly known as Yundi Li adds his voice to the Chopin 200th birthday year with a stylish, chronological collection of Chopin’s 21 Nocturnes. It’s this week’s Full Rotation.
One can be a tad suspicious when artist is re-branded and repackaged, particularly after a change of management and record label. The 27-year-old Chinese pianist Yundi Li had a meteoric rise a decade ago: he was scooped up by Deutsche Grammophon after he captured first prize at the 2000 International Chopin competition in Warsaw, at just age 18. Soon came a series of releases for the Yellow Label, including several well-received Chopin discs. With his brooding and androgynous looks, Li quickly gained a rock star following in his homeland and was often posited as the more introverted rival to his flashier countryman Lang Lang, also born in 1982.
In the past year, Yundi Li was picked up by EMI and dropped his last name. Yet as Yundi, his music-making appears to be steadily evolving. His Chopin combines elegance, strength and a rich variety of colors and inflections. He understands that the power of the Nocturnes rests in their glorious, rich melodies and his rubatos--those subtle, elastic fluctuations of tempo--are never affected. Standouts in this two-CD set include the gracefully lilting to the Italianate rhythm in Op. 37, No. 2, the introspective and raptly beautiful Op. 27, No. 2 and the surprising dissonant effects in Op. 55, No. 2.
More than any other genre, the Nocturnes follow Chopin's own life path and by presenting all 21 of them in chronological order one gains a deeper sense of the composer’s remarkable evolution.
♦ Tune in on Wednesday, May 19 to hear Yundi perform live on WNYC’s Soundcheck.
♦ Yundi plays at Carnegie Hall Thursday at 8 pm