CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20. Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31. Scherzo No. 3 in C# minor, Op. 39. Scherzo No. 4 in E, Op. 54. Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9 No. 2. LISZT: Sonata in B minor. Concert Paraphrase on Verdi's Rigoletto. WANG: Sun Flowers.
Yundi Li, pianist
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHONE DVD VIDEO B0005067 TT: 87 min (concert); 31 min (bonus)

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor." MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F, K. 459. Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488. BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83.
Maurizio Pollini, pianist; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Karl Böhm (Beethoven/Mozart)/Claudio Abbado, cond.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110. Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. Bagatelles, Op. 125 Nos. 5 and 6. SCHUBERT: Ländler D 790 Nos. 11 and 12.
Stephen Kovacevich, pianist
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 09433149496 TT: 56 min

Yundi Li won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2000, the youngest ever to win this major event. He already has impressive DG recordings of Chopin and Liszt, and now we have this remarkable video of a concert presented in Baden-Baden's Festspielhaus May 31, 2004. He is in brilliant form offering dynamic readings of the Chopin scherzi, a stunning Liszt B-minor sonata and, as encores, the Chopin Nocturne, Yu Shi Wang's delightful Sun Flowers, and a dazzling performance of Liszt's Rigoletto paraphrase. Surround sound on this video is perhaps the finest I've yet heard for solo piano in the format—the Steinway has incredible richness, a solid bass and brilliant upper register. This is a production of SWR in collaboration with ARTE, not totally successful visually. The camera too often is focused on Li's face when the viewer should have the opportunity to watch his hands. Fortunately, Li has none of the phoney mannerisims that mar his compatriot, Lang Lang's, performances. The "bonus" is valuable in that is offers Li's prize-winning performance of the finale of Chopin's Concerto No. 1 from the Warsaw competition; it's easy to tell why he won. The other "bonus" features are less interesting: promotional videos of his performances of Chopin and Schumann featuring slinky-looking young women walking around with wine glasses—who needs this? But the concert itself is exceptional.

Two giants of the keyboard are featured in the other DVD videos. Maurizio Pollini's performances of Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 recorded in November 1977, and Concerto No. 5 (May 1978), Mozart's Concertos 19 and 23 (April 1976) were conducted by Karl Böhm.The Brahms Concerto No. 2 was recorded May 1976 with conductor Claudio Abbado. All of these were recorded in Vienna's Musikverein without audience. The Beethoven concertos were directed by Franz Kabelka, the Mozart and Brahms by Hugo Käch; they did their tasks very well - the camera is always in the right place and focused on Pollini or the conductor. The label announces one of the available formats is 5.1 surround; notes inside explain this was produced by the new technology AMSI (Ambient Surround Imaging). It works well — the sound is rich, full and well-balanced. Stephen Kovacevich is heard in the Beethoven/Schubert program listed above recorded August 9, 2004 as part of the International Piano Festival held every summer at La Roque d'Anthéron, Provence. It was presented in a studio specially installed for the occasion for DVD release. A rather small, informal audience applauds Kovacevich's performances politely. Kovacevich is a specialist in Beethoven, a solid performer with a completely undemonstrative visual appearance. The camera work is OK, sound fine although not as vivid as what is heard on Yundi Li's recording mentioned above. It's unfortunate the program isn't longer: 56 minutes isn't very much for a DVD. A reminder: check out the superb Pentatone surround sound recording of Kovacevich's performances of Beethoven's Concertos 2 and 4 with Colin Davis conducting, recordings made in 1974 (see REVIEW).

R.E.B. (December 2005)