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Review: Piano Maestro Li Yundi, Royal Festival Hall

BY Boon Koh
Published 16 March 2010

I’m listening to Li Yundi (李云迪) on Spotify, barely just an hour after hearing him perform at the majestic Royal Festival Hall at Southbank. I will be forever grateful to my girlfriend for introducing me to this delightful genius of a pianist, as it was only at her insistence I found myself surprisingly wowed by Li Yundi’s remarkable technique.

But it is no surprise or fluke for that matter that he is capable of bringing to life a two dimensional sheet of music. On this occasion, he performed a full repertoire of Fryderyk Chopin, which is fitting as it was the maestro Chopin’s music that launched Li Yundi‘s career in the first place.

This piano superstar hailing from Chongqing in China shot to fame when he won the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 18, becoming the youngest ever winner of the renowned and acclaimed prize. As with most musical geniuses, he showed hints of musical flair from a young age, picking up the accordion at the age of three and mastering the complex instrument in just a year. At the age of seven, he started learning the piano, and with the help of one of China’s most renowned piano teachers (Dan Zhaoyi), his talent blossomed.

At this Chopin recital at the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank, he performed a repertoire of solo performances, all composed by Fryderyk Chopin. Unsurprisingly, given his fame, the hall was packed out even though it was a Tuesday night, with many patriotic Chinese fans turning up to catch a rare performance by Li Yundi in the UK. In China, this gifted pianist is somewhat of a celebrity, and it showed with the raucous clapping and cheers at the end of the recital, with Li Yundi obliging the crowd by coming out to play three encore short pieces. After the performance, there was a long queue of people clutching his CDs queuing up to get his autograph, the first time I have seen such a thing at a classical concert!

Having listened to Lang Lang (郎朗), another gifted Chinese pianist (and coincidentally born in the same year), it is hard to separate the two. Such are their immense skills that they are literally both at the top of the piano music profession at the moment. I watched Lang Lang perform at the Royal Albert Hall about half a year ago, and while I believe that Li Yundi has the edge over Lang Lang, it might have just been the better piano acoustics at the Royal Festival Hall. Still, I was a bit disappointed with the Li Yundi’s choice of Chopin pieces in the first half; while they were crowd pleasing tunes, they were also some of the easier ones to play, songs that he could play in his sleep.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX

Article written by Boon Koh.

  • jennifer

    good artical, but i don’t agree with u that li ‘s choice of chopin pieces in the first half are easy pieces, nocturnes are very emotional and hard to play well. He bring those 5 pieces to life give them color and shine. very well played. and I also went to lang lang’s concert. I have to say, his music talent and motion can not be close to yundi li, the way he play is like a show case, just for people to watch rather to listen. I heard him play shubert last time, a 30 min music he used 40….a lot of people got up and just left, i heard them say “chinese pianist only care about money,” such such. I think yundi is more of a ture artist then langlang. ps, Yundi’s sonata 2 that night I think was so uniq and amazing.

  • Jenny

    Does anyone know the name of the Chinese folk song he played at the end as an encore?

  • harukyon

    The piece he played at the end as an encore was ‘Sun Flower’.
    It was a nice music, wasn’t it?

  • Alicia

    Did Yundi Li play well throughout ? Cos Mr Michael Church from Independence gave a 2 over 5 rating for him ?

  • ali

    I loved how yundi played that night. critics are always have things to say, no mind about that. just feel what u felt.

  • Chun

    But it’s not just about the critics or not critics, it depends on whether he played well or not. Frankly I thought it was very disappointing. Some soft bits were so soft that he lost control and missed some notes. Even where he didn’t miss notes, it lacked the singing quality required of Chopin.

    His Sonata no 2 was very rushed and was completely substandard. If you don’t believe, go on Youtube and listen to the Maurizio Pollini version and you’ll notice the difference.

    I don’t mind him starting with the nocturnes and I disagree with the comment that these pieces are too easy as it is how well you play them that matters. But then again, I don’t think he played them well either.

    I would give a 2 out of 5 too.

  • Alicia

    thanks :)

  • fran

    I think Yundi played wonderful. Sonata No 2, I think there are lots of yundi’s characters, I find it very easy to listen like water flowing and it drown you to the story. I was impressed by his soft touch, I havn’t see any others like that. If Yundi polished it a little more, I think it will become a master piece of yundi’s version. I’ve heard Pollinis version. nice but, characterless. Nocturnes were nice.
    With all the wrong clapping in places, I give another 4 out of 5 for the night.

  • stephanie

    I believe Michael Church from Independence gave him 4/5, not 2/5..