Chinese pianist's music-making proves Western critics wrong

Four Worlds is Moye Chen's debut disc after winning 3rd prize at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition.
Four Worlds is Moye Chen's debut disc after winning 3rd prize at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition. PHOTO: MOYE CHEN/FACEBOOK

It is often opined, particularly by Western music critics, that Asian musicians have loads of technique, but lack feeling, gravitas, authenticity and originality in their playing.

Here is a new recording of music from the "golden age" of the piano that challenges that notion by Beijing native Moye Chen, putting out his debut disc after winning third prize at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition.

Its title refers to the continents inhabited by the three great 20th-century pianist-composers Sergei Rachmaninov, Vladimir Horowitz (both Europe) and Percy Grainger (Australia), and Chen himself (Asia), who made their homes and careers in the United States.

The works, both original ones and transcriptions, represent a wide range of styles. There is an old world romanticism to Rachmaninov's early pieces (Serenade and Melodie from Op. 3, and Humoresque from Op. 10). Here, Chen performs the alternative versions which are almost improvisatory and far more difficult.

A bygone patriotic spirit occupies Grainger's Colonial Song and Londonderry Air, before striding expansively into the jazzy "New World" swagger of Grainger's In Dahomey - cheekily subtitled a "cakewalk smasher" - and Horowitz's Danse Excentrique, a first cousin to Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk.

Chen is fully attuned to these contrasting idioms and emotes unsparingly in the perfumed paraphrases of Richard Strauss' opera Der Rosenkavalier and Gershwin's Broadway hit Love Walked In.


  • CLASSICAL

    FOUR WORLDS

    Moye Chen, Piano

    Deutsche Grammophon 481 7037

    5 stars

Finally, outright virtuosity reigns in Horowitz's outrageous transcription of Sousa's The Stars And Stripes Forever (with two hands simulating three hands) and Rachmaninov's over-the-top Second Sonata, also taking in Horowitz's unbuttoned additions.

There is no shame to gawk and enjoy here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese pianist's music-making proves Western critics wrong'. Print Edition | Subscribe