Stravinsky: Diversions

Paul Orgel
Fanfare (US)

An all-Stravinsky violin recital, and there are several others on disc, consists of transcriptions plus one work originally composed for violin and piano, the Duo Concertante. The Divertimento is taken from the charming ballet Le Baiser de la fée, based on songs and piano pieces by Tchaikovsky. The Suite after Pergolesi is a Pulcinella transcription by violinist Paul Kochanski that contains a few passages that are showier for the violin than the usual Suite Italienne. The Chanson russe is a very familiar excerpt from Petrouchka.

Ray Chen is an agile, polished player who seems most comfortable playing lyrically. His tone tends to be light. This serves the Divertimento beautifully in a performance that is both scintillating and subtle. Stravinsky’s anti-sentimental aesthetic keeps Tchaikovsky’s opposite tendencies in check in this wonderful piece of Russian ballet music, ingeniously transformed into a virtuosic duo.

Chen and Young offer a soft-edged interpretation of the Duo Concertante that, on its own terms, is very attractive. Chen downplays the arch, throwaway gesture that ends the Églogue I and turns the Églogue II into an intimately singing nocturne. The work’s longest movement is a determinedly cheerful Gigue, annoyingly difficult to play but rather innocuous to listen to, especially in Chen and Young’s relaxed, genial reading...on repeated hearings, I have gained respect for how the sensuousness and introspection of this performance tie the movements together...

The disc concludes with a fine performance of the Chanson russe, played with understated humour...the recital is titled Diversions, and Chen’s kinder, gentler Stravinsky has much to recommend it. Melba has given this young winner of several major competitions a lavish presentation and very fine sound on this debut CD.