In his native China, Yundi is as close to a pop star as a classical musician can get, with millions of Twitter followers, screaming fans, and sold-out tours. On hearing this fresh and sometimes even inspired performance of the venerable old Emperor Concerto, it’s easy to understand the fuss. Of course having Daniel Harding conduct the Berlin Philharmonic is a huge bonus, his tempi generally quick but never sounding rushed, and with the whole thing having a sense of excitement.
But from the moment Yundi himself enters with that famous theme, it’s clear that this is a young soloist who really has the goods, oddly enough, without affectation or mannerism – just lovely clear, musical insight and a singing, legato line. And then there’s the slow movement, which really is so rapt in mood and played with such poetic lyricism that you not only start falling in love with it all over again but even consider comparing Yundi’s spell-binding performance with that of the greats.
The coupling, though, is rather unusual, Schumann’s solo-piano Fantasie in C Major, presumably there for a good reason but it’s one that’s not immediately apparent. Good enough in itself, Schumann’s three-movement classic, which originated in a feeling of longing for his soon-to-be-wife, just doesn’t quite have the same aesthetic or impact as the Emperor that precedes it, but then, little else would anyway.