Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in G minor The Devil’s Trill (arr. Fritz Kreisler) [14:55]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chaconne from Partita in D minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004 [15:16]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Légende in G minor, op.17 (arr. Gustav Saenger) [7:49]
Variations on an Original Theme for violin and piano in A major, op.15 [12:09]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major [28:53]
Ray Chen (violin), Noreen Polera (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, 19-20 April, 21-25 June 2010.
SONY CLASSICS 88697829672 [79:02]

Rising stars should be wary of the adman - the TV series is not named “Mad Men” for nothing! I’m sure that people’s backs are put up when they read the title of this disc as ‘Ray Chen Virtuoso’ when they’ve never heard of the artist in question. Well, maybe it’s just me but I was prejudiced from the outset though, as I discovered after listening, for no good reason. Still I don’t believe it helps an artist to have their marketing implying something best left to the listener to decide for themselves. This I did and can say that Ray Chen is certainly a name to look out for in future. At only 22 Chen is already a master of his craft and this disc ably demonstrates that. Opening the disc is a piece that most violinists of note have recorded and Chen makes a great case for it. The legend goes that having denied that a spirit Tartini had dreamt of was the devil, as it claimed to be, the spirit then produced a violin and played the most amazing piece Tartini had ever heard. Upon awakening he rushed to pen as much as he could remember but because of a curse the devil had placed upon him he could not remember any of it and regretted it for the rest of his life. Well he did a pretty good job with what he did write down and the work has always been popular … and rightly so. It is played here without any mannered approach; Chen just allows the music to speak for itself and I enjoyed it more than I have before. Bach, by contrast requires even greater virtuosity - yes I know! - to make a memorable impression and Chen achieves this with the Chaconne from the Partita in D minor for Solo Violin. Again there are no musical histrionics in evidence here, just a beautifully measured and perfectly rounded performance of a work which, in less able hands, can seem harsh.

Moving through the centuries we come to Wieniawski, a composer Ray Chen writes in the liner notes, is his favourite “virtuoso violin composer” as is evidenced by his choice of two works by the Polish composer. The Légende he first performed aged 8 at a competition in Brisbane. He clearly knows the piece well and his rendition is beautiful in its simplicity. He really knows how to play quietly which adds to the overall sense of, as he puts it, “the cream-puffiness” of the work. The other Wieniawski piece, the Variations on an Original Theme, is one he describes as “this massive-monster-mammoth of a piece in terms of technical licks dangerous enough to cause sparks to go flying from the fingerboard.” He says he did not attempt it until “much later in life” – this from someone who was only born in 1989! Again he makes a powerful case for it presenting it in an engaging way that lets the music speak for itself just as in the Tartini. That’s a good thing for a work that is not heard so often these days.

The final work on the disc is the Franck violin sonata which is so often played on such discs and is, says Chen, one of his “favorite pieces of all time” – mine too. I recently reviewed a disc of Shlomo Mintz and Yefim Bronfman playing this along with the Debussy and Ravel sonatas. I rated this disc highly and said I’d never heard it played better. I stick by that but this performance is certainly excellent in every way. That the work is so clearly loved by Chen is self evident and there is reverence embodied in every note. His sweet tone is perfectly in keeping with the music and with the fact that it was Franck’s wedding present to Ysaÿe; what a present! The whole work is beautifully played and Noreen Polera’s accompaniment is a wonderfully judged and sympathetic one as it is in the Wieniawski. Overall this disc is a powerful argument that Chen is on his way to becoming the virtuoso the disc says he is!

Steve Arloff

Overall this disc is a powerful argument that Chen is on his way to becoming the virtuoso the cover says he is!