Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


WGBH Radio WGBH Radio

La Valse / Sean Chen

Scriabin / Ravel / Chen Release Date: 03/25/2014
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30029
Composer:  Alexander Scriabin ,  Maurice Ravel Performer:  Sean Chen Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo

"Chen's playing is brilliant, subtle, and spontaneous, and his mastery of the piano's tone colors makes the music highly effective, especially for those who want to hear the audible connections between Ravel and Scriabin." -- All Music Guide

The years between 1900 and 1914, as historian Philipp Blom notes, were a ďperiod of extraordinary creativity in the arts and sciences, of enormous change in society and in the very image people had of themselves.Ē The works on this album, composed in that era, are emblematic of that creative ferment, poised between the Ďgood old daysí and the rapid onslaught of modernity.

Pianist Sean Chen has been hailed as a rising star with a ďmillion-volt smileĒ and a
Read more ďformidable set of fingersĒ (Dallas Morning News). In 2013 he won the American Pianists Associationís DeHaan Classical Fellowship, one of the most lucrative and significant prizes available to an American pianist.

R E V I E W S: 3813570.az_SCRIABIN_Valse_38_Piano.html

SCRIABIN Valse in A flat, op. 38. Piano Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5. RAVEL Menuet antique. Valses nobles et sentimentales. Menuet sur le nom díHaydn. Prélude (1913). RAVEL (arr. Chen) La valse ē Sean Chen (pn) ē STEINWAY & SONS 300029 (67:57)

Itís a nice idea to juxtapose music by Ravel and Scriabin in this disc entitled La Valse (although it is a bit of a stretch to fit Scriabinís Fourth and Fifth Piano Sonatas into this descriptor), two composers whose heady chromaticisms readily complement each other, while each composer comes from different aesthetic standpoints. Here is a program of works which, except for Ravelís La valse , were composed between 1895 and the beginning of the First World War. Florida-born Pianist Sean Chen was a prizewinner at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; he trained at Juilliard and Yale. This present disc was recorded as part of Chenís deal as winner of the American Pianist Associationís DeHaan Classical Fellowship.

Scriabinís La valse of 1903 is given a delicious performance. Once the excellence of the piano recording has sunk in, it is Chenís sensitivity that impresses. The contrast with Ravelís Menuet antique is clear in Chenís hands; here, artifice is highlighted, a sense of gentilité absent from Scriabinís expressive vocabulary.

The two-movement Fourth Sonata of Scriabin is one of his most impressive utterances. Chen is supremely sensitive in the heady yet delicate Andante, while his Prestissimo volando is not only volatile but promises a volcanic eruption. One gets the impression that had this performance been live, the promise would have been delivered; as it is, the close does not quite reach the ecstatic. As the pull of the theosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky took Scriabin over (theosophy, as a belief system, still exists today), Scriabinís language became ever more elusive, an embodiment of the mystical in sound. The Fifth Sonata in this sense acts as an extension of the Fourth. Chen is technically commanding here, and again there is much to commend. There is also the impression, though, that Chen is simultaneously trying to isolate the Chopin influence that had so dominated Scriabinís earlier work. The effect is rather as if an earthbound, retrospective force is pulling away from the headlong ecstasy.

In fact, there is a general impression that Chen seems more comfortable with Ravel than with Scriabin. His Valses nobles et sentimentales is beautifully perfumed, the atmosphere magnificently sustained; however, the Menuet sur le nom díHaydn perhaps shows a minor tendency towards clumsiness. Chenís own arrangement of La valse is ďdrawn from Ravelís different scores,Ē to quote the booklet note.

Comparisons for Ravel are legion, but of modern performances the major rival is Steven Osborne on Hyperion, who remains prime choice for his supreme attunement to Ravelís expressive nature. Chen cannot compare with Richter in Scriabin (the Fifth Sonata). But as a stand-alone recital, this disc has much to recommend it.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke


"Los Angeles native Sean Chen has the rare ability to combine poetic musical sensibilities and dazzling technical prowess. On La Valse, his debut album for Steinway & Sons, Mr. Chen delves into Ravel and Scriabinís solo piano works... Mr. Chenís charisma, remarkable musical depth and talent for coaxing subtle and surprising colors and textures from each work on the recording are only a few reasons to listen to La Valse more than once. The album itself is a fascinating blend of the two composersí solo piano works for the waltz genre... Chen artfully develops Scriabinís harmonic language that is marked by chromaticism and unconventional harmonies. He likens them to early Russian jazz, i.e. the use of 7th and 9th chords and progressive harmonies that are now characteristic in the jazz sounds of today. Mr. Chen plays the rhythmically complex works caressingly -- as if taking the listener on an intimate journey. Maurice Ravelís La Valse was published as a Poeme choregraphique for orchestra but Ravel also composed versions for solo piano and for two pianos. The 13: 21 minute version on this album is Mr. Chenís brilliant arrangement that is drawn from Ravelís different scores. Also included is Ravelís Valses nobles et sentimentales - a suite of 8 miniature waltzes. Ravel did not differentiate the noble waltzes from the sentimental ones and it is up to the listener to discern which is which. Chen plays the entire suite with impeccable skills."

-- Paula Edelstein, LA Music Examiner

Sean Chen is a young American pianist with a promising career ahead of him. The winner of several recent competitions, including third place at last yearís Van Cliburn competition, Chen has been making waves wherever he has played.
The 25-year-old has just released his first album, and itís spectacular. Focusing on some of the earlier works of Scriabin and Ravel, Chen displays his versatility, technical mastery, musicality and interpretative skills to the fullest. Itís an auspicious recorded debut and one can only hope there will be many more CDs from this talented young artist.
There are three works by Scriabin in this album: the Valse in A flat major, op. 38; and the Fourth and Fifth Piano Sonatas. Itís an absolute delight hearing him move from the lush romanticism of the Valse and Fourth Sonata to the more expansive and vigorous harmonic vocabulary of the Fifth. His playing is assertive and he shows that he has a solid grasp of the music.
As good as the Scriabin selections are, the real payoff is the Ravel. Chen offers a nice sampling of the composerís works, including the Menuet antique, Menuet sur le nom díHaydn and the brief Prélude.
The real showstoppers, though, are the Valses nobles et sentimentales and Chenís own arrangement of La valse. In each of these pieces, Chen captures the sweeping lines and pungent harmonies with his sensitive and perceptive playing. His account of the Valse nobles et sentimentales is particularly noteworthy for his meticulously crafted phrasings and clean lyricism. This is one of the best performances of this piece on CD.
And La valse is memorable for Chenís virtuosic playing which he deftly modulates with finely molded expressiveness.
This album makes a perfect addition to oneís CD collection.

-- Edward Reichel, Reichel Recommends
Read less