At 18, having already blazed through a number of lesser contests in the West, Chinese pianist Yundi Li won a First Prize the 2000 International Chopin Competition. That victory made him a superstar at home, styled by promoters first “as an androgynous virgin, then as an Asian drug baron,” according to London’s Independent.
His success, along with that of contemporaries including Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, has inspired a generation of parents and students, fueling sales of pianos at home. But it also created a rivalry – Lang Lang, four months older than Yundi, is said to have forced recording company Deutsche Grammophon to drop his slightly younger rival at one point.
Now, Lang Lang is with another recording company. And Yundi, embarking on a European recital tour, is back on the famous DG label. Known for Chopin, he is releasing his first Beethoven performances at the age of 30. Reviews in recent years of Yundi’s live performances outside China suggest his style is still evolving, and sometimes critics have been underwhelmed. “Maybe his rivalry got to him,” a Los Angeles Times headline suggested after a 2008 concert.
In this clip, he plays the second movement, the adagio, from Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata; the album includes Beeethoven’s two other famous sonatas as well, the Moonlight and the Apassionata.
Listen to Yundi’s earlier recordings on Spotify on this playlist: