Stravinsky: Diversions

Paolo Hooke
Fine Music Magazine (Australia)
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Violinist Ray Chen, whose star is rising rapidly, made his Sydney Symphony debut in February, performing the Brahms Violin Concerto. His account of the concerto was described by The Australian as one of ‘affectionate warmth and refined elegance’ with a ‘pure, focused, evenly produced tone’. Chen brings qualities to this recent release from Melba recordings, a program of chamber music by Igor Stravinsky. Chen teams with the emerging talent Timothy Young, resident pianist at the Australian national Academy of Music, in Stravinsky Diversions, a disc which presents the Russian composer at his most entertaining, his music brimming with bravura and optimism. The orogram begins with the Suite after Pergolesi, inspired by the 18th century Italian composer Giambattista Pergolesi, a five-movement work incorporating themes, fragments and pieces from his music. In the orchestral suite Divertimento, consisting of six movements, Stravinsky uses material from his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, based on the fairytale The Snow Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen. The influence of Tchaikovsky is clearly present, his songs and piano pieces providing melodic motivation for Stravinsky.

The centrepiece of the disc is the Duo concertante, in effect a five movement sonata for violin and piano. Stravinsky said he had sought to create a ‘lyrical work of musical versification’ whose spirit and form were inspired by the ‘pastoral poets of antiquity and their scholarly art’. There is lyrical and cantabile writing, percussiveness and exhilarating rhythm. The program concludes with two distinctively Russian pieces; the Russian maiden’s song from the opera Mavra and the Danse russe from the ballet Petrushka. The disc comes with extensive sleeve notes and is well presented. Best of all, the performances are excellent, with Chen and Young engaging in vivid musical storytelling and youthful joy.

I recommend this recording without hesitation. It is a delightful release.