PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16; RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major – Yundi Li, piano/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa – DGG

by | Jan 4, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16; RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major – Yundi Li, piano/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa – DGG B0010175-02,  51:14 (Distrib. Universal) ****:

Two concertos of dramatically contrasting character provide vehicles for wunderkind virtuoso Yundi Li, the Prokofiev G Minor and Ravel G Major having been inscribed May 2007 after run-throughs with the New Japan Philharmonic in 2006. Prokofiev’s G Minor (1913; rev. 1923) evinces aspects of the composer’s “primitivism,” an earthy, rhythmically and percussively heavy syntax juxtaposed against flights of lyrical melancholy. I first heard it in concert with Shura Cherkassky and Josef Krips and the New York Philharmonic, and my eyebrows have never ceased knitting and jumping to its tempestuous, dissonant dervishes of sound. Li and Ozawa play it for its dazzling colors and witty irreverence, the third movement Intermezzo alternately clunking and teasing our sensibilities. The last movement opens as a frenetic toccata for both piano and orchestra, Li and Ozawa exchanging spasms of block chords. A sudden caesura, some brittle, detached piano chords, and then a wavy, somewhat drunken sailor’s song emerges, glistened by Li’s plaintive non-legato and cascading filigree. Another caesura and broken chords from a seemingly moribund world, the main theme broken up and spread over swaying arpeggios until a new momentum of fury ensues, quite romantic in a Lisztian way. The final rush to judgment catapults us headlong into a kaleidoscopic abyss – wild, to say the least! And what had been a totally silent audience erupts into applause.

The Ravel G Major offers a different, cosmopolitan set:  jazzy, introspective, gently ironic. Pianists as diverse in character as Francois, Ciccolini, Entremont, Perlemuter, and Michelangeli have grappled successfully with its effervescent figures. Li accepts its metric, mercurial challenges gratefully and gracefully, often adding a touch a Debussy to the proceedings, as just prior to the harp cadenza in the middle of the opening movement. Then a bluesy horn invites Li to discourse on the brilliance of poetry realized through technical flurries of high order. The coda is all pounding syncopes and Gershwinesque comets of sound, furioso. The two-beats-per-bar waltz drifts on the waves, a silky shadow of the dome of pleasure. The Presto has Li and BPO snare drum and battery friends all whipping and snapping wicked riffs in the manner of a hepped-up Saint-Saens. The pulsation mounts inexorably towards a circus parade, a musical fete delighting in naughty thoughts. A delicious treat throughout, aided most pointedly by the engineering, courtesy of Klaus Hiemann.

— Gary Lemco


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