Stravinsky: Diversions

Robert Marham
Fanfare (US)

...Ray Chen’s...back with a program of music by Igor Stravinsky, this time with pianist Timothy Young, on Melba. The duo recorded the recital on January 3-5, 2010, in Iwaki Auditorium in Melbourne, and the engineers captured the instrumentalists in warmly reverberant, though clear and crisp, recorded sound.

The program opens with Stravinsky’s Suite (“After Themes, Fragments, and Pieces by Giambattista Pergolesi”); although the work may be more familiar in an arrangement with Stravinsky’s regular collaborator, violinist Samuel Dushkin, under the title Suite Italienne, the duo plays instead the earlier, more virtuosic, arrangement Stravinsky made for the violinist Paul Kochanski. Young’s contribution to the ensemble seems particularly notable in moments like those in the second-movement Serenata and the fourth-movement Gavotta in which his atmospheric accompaniments almost distract attention from the violin part. The recorded sound’s reverberance may shear the textures of some of their spikiness, but that hardly dampens the rhythmic vitality of Chen’s playing (and Young’s) in the Tarantella and in the motoric finale. And Chen’s tonal lustre...comes through clearly here as well. The lustre as well as the strength of that tone seem perhaps even more apparent in the first movement of the Divertimento’s Sinfonia...Erik Levi’s informative and insightful notes relate the origin of all these pieces to the collaboration with Dushkin and Stravinsky’s desire to create a repertoire from which he and the violinist could construct programs for their tours together, and that perhaps explains in part why Stravinsky drew so heavily on his own works as sources of arrangements (in the program, the Duo Concertante provides the only original contribution to the instrumental combination). Still, angularity and strongly rhythmic writing, like that in the Divertimento’s ‘Danses suisses’, predominates in both the original works and in the transcriptions; Chen and Young revel in it. The Scherzo recalls the writing for violin in the Violin Concerto’s Aria I, and the duo makes the most of its quicksilver capriciousness. The ‘Pas de deux’ evokes from Chen a more eloquent lyricism, which its variation translates in this performance into fragmentary flashes of light before the finale brings the work to a close with jazzy verve.

Once again, in the Duo Concertante, Chen and Young take advantage of the almost pounding rhythmic regularity of the first Églogue (after a smoother and more lyrical reading of the opening Cantilène), which in the second Églogue, they recall the Violin Concerto’s haunting Aria II. Their rhythmic verve in the gigue gives way to an affecting reading of the Dithyrambe. The program concludes with two of Stravinsky’s arrangements in a reading by turns tangy and ardent of the Chanson russe (Russian Maiden’s Song) from Mavra and an intoxicating account of the Danse russe from Petrushka...Chen’s readings seem more highly charged and rhythmically incisive (or at least tantalising), at the same time sweetened by his opulent sound – and giving him perhaps a slight edge. In any case, his success in this repertoire demonstrates the range of his musical expressivity and his aplomb in literature...created to explore his instrument’s virtuosic possibilities. Strongly recommended.