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Twenty-one year old violinist Ray Chen and his collaborative partner, pianist Andrew Tyson, a native son, performed together at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. The two Curtis graduates and rising stars covered major violin schools (Italian, German and Belgian) with works by J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Tartini (arr. Kreisler), and Henryk Wieniawski.
This was a hefty program that required grit and stamina. Yet one hardly noticed as Chen played with such exuberance and joy. What made the recital especially endearing for me, however, was their reading of Brahms' Sonata No.2 in A (1886), a favorite of the violinist. Written during a summer retreat, Brahms' writing is sweet and pastoral, with lovely piano lines. Here Chen and Tyson shone as a duo, breathing together and producing perfectly elided phrases. Chen internalizes music so thoroughly he is free to spend more effort communicating with his partner and less time glued to the page. And Tyson, already a seasoned collaborator, provided the violinist with a depth of understanding that instilled his partner with great trust. They played well together. When this dynamite pair establishes themselves, I hope they ditch the audience pleasing opener, "Devil's Trill" for a contemporary piece. No doubt composers will be itching to provide them with material.
J.S. Bach's glorious Ciaconna, from the D minor Partita for solo violin, has become a rite of passage. But it is not only fiendishly difficult to play but also filled with mysterious wonders. The trick is to "make it one's own" while honoring the composer's intent. For some, this becomes a lifetime love affair. As Rachel Poger, baroque violinist says, "It's a stimulating challenge which fuels heart, mind, soul and spirit." Chen played with great musicality and technical clarity. Even at the treacherous return from D Major, he maintained a sense of easy composure — no fighting the instrument for command. The counterpoint, hidden melodies, and tricky arpeggios across the strings at lightning speeds were all there. Chen played fearlessly, effortlessly, and the sound he produced was luminous.
Tyson returned for the final selections, compositions penned by the nineteenth century virtuoso violinist, Wieniawski. These delighted the audience and rubber-stamped the virtuosity of the performers — the perfect close for a wonderful afternoon.
What's next? Since he signed on with Sony Classical, Chen has begun a busy recital schedule: he is preparing for his first orchestral recording to be released in January 2012. I anticipate following what looks like a very promising career!
On behalf of the community, I thank Dorothy and Joseph Kitchen for their expert selection of young talent and their support of music through the St. Stephen's concert season. The recital was preceded by an informal discussion led by Dr. Kitchen followed by a Q & A.
Chen plays the "Macmillan" Stradivarius as part of the award for winning the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.