In This Corner, Yundi Li

Pianist Yundi Li appeared on Saturday at Strathmore.
Pianist Yundi Li appeared on Saturday at Strathmore. (Music Center At Strathmore)
Monday, April 3, 2006

Is the Music Center at Strathmore trying to start a fight? That's the only logical explanation for scheduling Yundi Li and Lang Lang -- the two dueling Chinese enfants terribles of the piano world -- virtually back to back this month, with suspiciously similar programs of Mozart, Schumann and Liszt. Why not just put a boxing ring onstage and have at it?

At any rate, Yundi Li got in some solid licks on Saturday night, displaying the intelligence, taste and nosebleed-altitude virtuosity he's become famous for. Admittedly, things got off to a wobbly start with Mozart's Piano Sonata in C (K. 330), which in the right hands crackles with brainy wit. Li gave it a more relaxed reading that was pretty -- even sensual -- rather than incisive.

But his account of Robert Schumann's Carnaval, Op. 9, was far more impressive. Li brings fresh insight to the romantics, and he explored the Schumann as if discovering it for the first time. Nuanced, thoughtful, elegant and alive, it also gave Li a chance to display his celebrated limpid fingering, precise dynamic control and ear-melting tone.

Nevertheless, it was only in the final work -- Franz Liszt's tempestuous and demonic Sonata in B Minor -- that Li really demonstrated why he's already in the top ranks of the world's pianists. He gave a remarkable interpretation of this behemoth, both rigorously coherent and unrelentingly powerful, breathing white-hot fury and ethereal calm -- a knockout performance by any standard. When Lang Lang takes the stage on April 13, he'll have his work cut out for him.

-- Stephen Brookes

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