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The Chinese pianist Yundi, born in 1982, has affinities with Beethoven, as his 2012 CD of the ‘Pathétique,’ ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Appassionata’ Sonatas (also Deutsche Grammophon, DG 4765049) testifies. Beethoven’s spiky sprightliness strikes a chord in Yundi, who has made recordings of Chopin and others marred by languid, sluggish tempos. Sadly, these also afflict the Schumann Fantasie he performs here. Daniel Harding’s ponderously fustian conducting of the ‘Emperor’ sometimes stymies Yundi’s best efforts.

I remember interviewing the pianist on his first trip to New York, when he was still a promising Yundi Li (indeed, when he was relaunched by EMI with an amputated name and some disappointing CDs, one waggish critic exclaimed, ‘He’s no Yundi Li!’).

Since that time, the unassuming provincial Chinese youth with already-swollen knuckles from long practice sessions has been transformed by more strenuous fashionista makeovers than some Hollywood starlets. Deutsche Grammophon dropped Yundi Li from its roster, caving in to the alleged ultimatums of his rival Lang Lang, only to have the latter defect to Sony, clearing the path for Yundi’s deserved return to the DG label. Before that, in belated celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, EMI Classics released Yundi’s Red Piano CD, featuring the Yellow River Piano Concerto, a collaborative work first premiered in 1969 during the Cultural Revolution, and My Motherland, a propaganda song praising North Korea, written for a 1950s Korean War film.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing