Doing justice to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, the ‘Emperor’, and Schumann’s solo piano masterpiece, the Fantasie in C major Op.17, requires immense emotional, imaginative and intellectual range. These works have been recorded so often, and by such great artists, that there has to be a seriously good reason to buy another one.
Imagine an actor reading a Shakespeare sonnet, delivering words clearly and in sequence, yet without displaying the poem’s meaning, its emotional undercurrents, the subtle rhymes and rhythms within phrases, the need to draw breath, the potential for variety of tone to add layers of meaning and perspective. He shouts to be heard, yet what he says has little import.
Yundi’s playing here is rather like that. There’s an absence of real inner vitality. Bashing instead of fulsomeness, little colouristic variety, repetitive articulations – and muddy pedalling, which is pretty basic pianistic stuff. It is a one-dimensional interpretation; it feels like a room in which the furniture is in the right place, but the lights do not work.
In the Beethoven, the Berlin Philharmonic plays valiantly, but with the piano closely miked, exchanges between soloist and orchestra cannot emerge as the conversational partnership they should be.