Bountiful bliss with Chopin
“All 27 etudes in a single evening? Chopin would presumably have been shocked by such a feat, unimaginable in his time. In his recital for the established series of Preungesheimer Festeburg Concerts the Chinese pianist Xi Zhai took up the challenge with full confidence in his supreme keyboard technique and power of concentration. They were the point of departure for a fascinating journey through a rich diversity of pianistic miniatures. Starting cautiously Zhai soon attained a stable but never static basic tempo which he modified with a discreet rubato… More

After the resounding billows of the C major etude that opens the cycle op. 10 he established a transparent, well articulated sound, generally with sparing use of the pedal. Consciously savoured, lingering final chords created transitions to the next etude, while further on into the cycle the pianist built up dramatic tension by letting the pieces follow one another almost without pause right up to the tumultuous cascades of the final C minor etude, showing no signs of fatigue whatsoever. Also right through op. 25 intensity of expression remained at a consistently high level. And it is with almost casual ease that the much feared ‘Thirds’ etude in G sharp minor fleeted by. It is particularly engaging how Xi Zhai refrains from any show effects, concentrating exclusively on the music and placing his faith – rightly so – in its inherent impact. In appreciation of the rapturous applause of the Preungesheim audience he went on to perform, without lowering his sights, the three etudes that Chopin wrote for the Moscheles piano method. And as if that were not enough Xi Zhai concluded this memorable evening with a brilliant and sparkling performance of Liszt’s ‘Campanella’ etude”

Memento mori
“His performance of Ravel´s cycle ‘Gaspard de la nuit’ was highly evocative. In ‘Ondine’ het let the waters cascade and wash around the fragile nymph with supreme delicacy, made them glisten and shimmer in reflections of light, but also showed the vehemence that can at times take possession of this element … Steering clear of a too overtly narrative concretization in the sense of programmatic music, Xi Zhai conveyed first and foremost meaning.More

In this way the music’s oscillating movement in ‘Le Gibet’ turned into a memento mori. Under Xi Zhai’s hands the suffering that time inflicts, its languid, ineluctable trickling away and the void it leaves became palpable. ‘Scarbo’, finally, was interpreted as a kind of psychological character piece. The delirious tone repetitions evoked the sense of anxious, fearful trembling: the dread that the evil, inner gnome could grow into a monster.”

The beginning of a great career. – Xi Zhai in the Seligenstädter Monastery Concert: extraordinary sophisticated touch, supreme technical command
“The beginning of a great career. – Xi Zhai in the Seligenstädter Monastery Concert: extraordinary sophisticated touch, supreme technical command. An event that is likely to go down as a memorable one. Xi Zhai’s performance was received with wild enthusiasm by the audience that thronged the Jacob Hall. There was talk of “world class” and “we were there”. The latter comment expressed the feeling that here a great career was in the making. Already the very first measures of the Andante grazioso of Mozart’s A major sonata K. 331 were evidence of Xi Zhai’s “extraordinary depth of musical expression, exceptional cultivated touch and supreme technique” attested by the professional media which never for one moment diminished in the almost two hours long recital… More

The pianist gave a glimpse of the broad range of his repertoire with Beethoven’s 32 variations and the famous “Appassionata’ in F minor op. 57, with the vigorous approach appropriate for the works of this composer but without pounding away at the keys. A pianistic challenge also Chopin’s etudes op. 25, considered the ‘gold standard’ in the world of etudes. Prolongued and wild applause by a grateful audience.”

Erich Wächter and the Pfalztheater-Orchester in Kaiserslautern – The pianist Xi Zhai gave an impressive performance with Schumann’s piano concerto
“Erich Wächter and the Pfalztheater-Orchester in Kaiserslautern – The pianist Xi Zhai gave an impressive performance with Schumann’s piano concerto. The dialogue between the orchestra and the soloist became wonderfully alive, at times breathing the finesse and intimacy of chamber music. Even though Xi Zhai is a formidable virtuoso, he is not one to display any kind of ostentatiousness in his performance, and his interpretation of the Schumann concert was utterly convincing solely on the merit of its refined attention to the music’s textures and sentiment. In his encore he finally offered proof of his exuberant temperament and technical brilliance with his captivating rendition of the Chopin´s Revolutionary Etude.”


Dies irea
Dies irae which plays into Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations for orchestra and piano … represents the evil with which, according to legend, the ‘devil’s fiddler’ has made a pact in order to attain virtuosic perfection. Accordingly ‘develish’ is also the piano part which even Rachmaninov reputedly had trouble with. The young Chinese pianist Xi Zhai mastered the task not only with technical brilliance but also with a remarkable sensitivity for the musical substance, particularly in those formidably difficult passages, and the inner brokenness that becomes palpable after the first appearance of the ‘Dies irae’.”


The passion and the joy
“Technically Brahms’ piano concerto No. 1 in D minor op. 15 is a tour de force both for the pianist and each and every member of the orchestra. The young Chinese soloist Xi Zhai, however, gave the impression that it held no difficulties whatsoever, the music appeared to flow quite naturally from his fingers. He seemed completely abandoned to the music, at times deeply immersed in his playing, but always in active contact with the orchestra and the conductor. The passion and the joy he clearly feels for this music transmitted itself to the rapturous audience which applauded generously, persuading the young artist to take leave with an exquisite rendition of Schumann’s ‘Träumerei.”