Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Jie Chen Piano Recital / Review

JIE CHEN Piano Recital
Huayi Chinese Festival
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (8 February 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 February 2009

It is no exaggeration to assert that if Esplanade were to present more than one prize-winning Chinese pianist in its annual Huayi Chinese Festival, there will be no shortage of names for the next couple of centuries. The likes of Yundi Li and Lang Lang are merely the tip of an iceberg that does not look like melting anytime.

Now meet 22-year-old Jie Chen, whose wholesome and demure manner belies a serious artist, and seriously good musician. Her well-balanced piano recital showed why Asian pianists are conquering the world’s concert stages, the arena traditionally dominated by the Russian and Eastern European axis.

Poise and polish distinguished Chen’s view of Haydn’s Sonata in A flat major (Hob. XVI: 46), which brought out lovely sonorities aided by generous but judicious use of the sustaining pedal. A romanticised view, particularly in the central Adagio, would have sounded foreign to Haydn or Mozart’s ears, but borne with such beauty and persuasiveness, it is hard to resist.

Chen included two transcriptions of Chinese melodies by Wang Jianzhong, and these were lovingly recreated, with the piano simulating a host of traditional instruments. The cumbersomely titled A Hundred Birds Paying Respect To The Phoenix (Bai Niao Chao Feng in far more poetic Chinese) saw birdsong in resplendent mimicry, the trills of one nightingale out-singing the rest of the flock.

In the ubiquitous Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Chen never lost the rhythmic impetus set by the bass, upon which she built a cathedral of fancy and filigree. That she was able to bring out inner voices and harmonies while generating a large volume of sound was testament to her prowess.

The dynamic extremes of Chopin’s Four Ballades provided Chen’s sternest tests. Although her diminutive physical frame mostly matched the bluster and overwrought emotions demanded, but with caution thrown into the wind, as in the codas of the first two Ballades, choppiness in rhythm and several missed notes were a price to pay.

Taking a breather before the final pair was the best tonic, as the least intimidating Third Ballade and the rhapsodic Fourth Ballade (arguably Chopin’s greatest single movement) traversed from arch simplicity to the rarefied realms of ecstatic highs. For this listener, Chen’s unerring vision of the latter was alone worth the price of admission.

A return by this fine artist to our stages is imperative, and one most keenly awaited.

1 comment:

Kevin Tan said...

Hi Tou Liang
I just picked up her "Chinese Piano Favourites" [Naxos 8.570602]. Can't agree more with your characterisation. She makes these pieces sing beautifully.