Stravinsky: Diversions

Audiophilia (Canada)

Ray Chen is a brilliant young Taiwanese/Australian violinist, whose meteoric rise appears unstoppable. Winner of two major European competitions, with the exclusive use of two Stradivarius instruments, the title of ‘Virtuoso’ attached to his recital disc of solo and accompanied works recently released on Sony might be considered precocious for a 21-year old … though it’s not bragging if you can actually do it! Chen distinguishes himself in a crowded field with a luminous, singing tone and a natural interpreter’s gift.

Stravinsky emerged from a wealth of Russian musical talent born in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century – including Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Medtner and, a little later, Shostakovich – and the works featured here have their genesis through the 1920s and 30s. Not naturally inclined towards writing for this combination of instruments, Stravinsky initially responded to commercial opportunities by producing some transcriptions, mainly adapted from his ballet music; a later friendship with the violinist Samuel Dushkin was to inspire the only original composition here, the Duo Concertante from 1932.

Let me share a confession; of the few recent discs to which I’ve taken a hearty dislike, one was a recording of Stravinsky duos for violin and piano … so my expectations here were not high. Yet, aided by a typically superlative recording from Melba, this performance is both entrancing and utterly gripping. Timothy Young, whose sterling contribution to Melba’s wonderful Volupté disc was noted in last year’s selections, rises to the even greater demands posed by this music, his perfectly weighted dynamics and flawless interweaving of melodic lines the measure of a supreme accompanist. Also relishing the technical challenge, Chen taps into an unexpected source of power and pathos at the heart of these works and delivers a performance of both sensitivity and dazzling, kinetic intensity. This remarkable disc is essential listening, no doubt heralding the emergence of a major new talent.