TCHAIKOVSKY, MENDELSSOHN Violin Concertos
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
Ray Chen (violin), Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding.
Sony Classical 88697984102
Following his widely acclaimed
Sony debut recording of fiddle showpieces, (his first release was actually a disc of Stravinsky chamber music for Melba Recordings) Ray Chen has now released his first concerto disc with, for the most part, equally successful results.
The 23-year old Taiwanese-Australian violinist combines a fluent and assured technique with an individual expressive poise that makes even these warhorses by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn emerge sounding fresh and unhackneyed. After the orchestral introduction in the Tchaikovsky, Chen’s entrance is casual and insinuating, almost jazz-like in its freedom of pulse and phrasing. His tone is honeyed and his articulation seamless. Chen’s technical arsenal is complete and not a single bar sounds routine, which is no small feat in this thrice-familiar music.
Most notable are the lyrical passages in which he brings a quirky rubato and expressive quality. His tone is not large but very sweet, highly focused and flexible, as reflected in his nuanced take on the cadenza, which perhaps could have used more dramatic cut and intensity. So too, Harding’s accompaniment is trim and efficient though the Swedish orchestra sounds a bit small-scale. Although strikingly well played, the coda with a rather stately pace until the final bars, could be more exciting.
Chen’s intimate, confiding style is very well suited to the Canzonetta, however, although the performance is let down by a rather bland accompaniment from Harding. The finale is extremely well played and tightly focused if also feeling a bit lightweight overall. Chen’s individual rubato always compels attention though his fleet, spirited account seems to lack both fire and intensity.
The violinist’s gifts are heard to better advantage in the coupling,
with a sweet, slender tone eminently well suited to Mendelssohn’s lyrical concerto. He brings a wonderfully imaginative fantasia-like touch to the cadenza and the coda of the first movement has no lack
of fire or excitement, with the Swedish orchestra here, paradoxically, sounding more robust (a change of microphone setup perhaps?).
The Andante is glorious with Chen’s silken, gleaming tone
caressing the famous melody most winningly and with just the
right degree of intimate tenderness. The performance is rounded
off with a wonderfully fleet and vivacious account of the final movement, with Harding and the orchestra at their finest too, notably in the personality-plus woodwinds’ exchanges with Chen, and the whirlwind finale,
Even in a landscape populated with a dizzying number of gifted violinists, Ray Chen is clearly a young musician on the fast track to the top. Quibbles about the Tchaikovsky aside, the Mendelssohn is first-class in every way, and the disc deserves a recommendation.