Journey: Debussy • Mozart • Elgar • Grieg • Chopin
Di Xiao is one of several Chinese pianists who champions her composer-compatriots, but here she limits herself to arrangements of three melodies. The first ‘Autumn Moon Over a Calm Lake’, derives from a Canton opera, but it comes across as a Debussy pastiche: as with many of the Chinese melodies presented in Yundi’s new CD, there seems a deep affinity between contemporary Chinese composers and the seminal French master.
But Di Xiao’s prime aim is to make her mark with Western classics, to which end she brings a clean, unfussy style and a well-developed technique. But she has yet to learn how to make the piano sing. Despite her transparent eagerness, Debussy’s Arabesques lack both poetry and silkiness of sound, while the climactic passages of the Chopin Ballade No. 4 are aggressively thumped. The first two movements of the Mozart Sonata are nicely characterised, but the third comes across more like clog-dancing than a performance in court shoes. Only in the Grieg Lyric Pieces does she seem in her element: there’s a happy congruence between her coltish energy and the busy cheerfulness of ‘Butterfly’ and ‘To Spring’. I suspect she has been ill-served by her recordist: sometimes the sound is boxy, and the high notes repeatedly hurt the ear.