Review / Impressive Chen plays with technique and passion

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Ray Chen. Photo by Sophie Zhai
NOT yet 30 years old, violinist Ray Chen, who is in the middle of his second solo tour for Musica Viva, is a musician of impressive technical abilities.

His program biography breathlessly extolls his social media presence and suggest this brings a new demographic to classical music concerts, although this was not obvious in last night’s audience. At the same time Chen’s musical passion is the “Golden Age” of virtuosic violinists such as Jasha Heifitz and Fritz Kreisler in the first half of last century

All five of the works in this concert are of that virtuosic solo violin repertoire, all testing the technique of the performer. The first, Chaconne for violin and continuo in G minor, attributed to Italian barque composer Tomaso Vitali, is a challenging piece of music with lots of technical elements. Chen’s liberal use of vibrato did blur the phrasing and at times it did not sound like baroque music very much at all.

The longest work of the evening was the Sonata in A major for violin and piano by French composer Cesar Franck. This was written in 1886 as a wedding present for violinist and composer Eugene Ysaye and is an attractive and charming work. It does contain a bit of a trap for the audience with the second (of four) movements finishing in what does sound the end of the entire work and the audience duly applauded. It did give the performers a break to catch their breath before the much slower third movement.

After the interval was a short Sonata for solo violin in D minor, op27 no 3 by Eugene Ysaye, which seemed to include every possible element of violin technique in a spectacular fashion. This was followed by a new work by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, commissioned by Musica Viva for Chen. Violin Sonata no 1, Dark Matter, is in two movements, the first slow and reflective, the second, described by Chen as “athletic”. A rewarding piece of music, which hopefully will become part of the repertoire.

The final work was Ravel’s Tzigane, inspired by Eastern European gypsy violin music. This was a more restrained work than expected, with a slow solo introduction before joined by the piano where they explored fragments of dance tunes with embellishments. It was an exciting end to an accomplished concert. The piano work by Julian Quentin was always there at the right level, supporting and working with Chen’s violin with a perfect balance between the instruments.

As an encore the two played Estrellita by Manuel Ponce, in an arrangement by Jascha Heifetz. No flashiness, just a pretty piece of music well played and a clever way to end the concert.

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