Ray Chen recorded this in Australia a few months before his debut on DG that was reviewed in the last issue. He has assembled all of the important music that Stravinsky wrote for violin and piano. I just wish that he had not second-guessed Stravinsky and recorded his first arrangement of music from Pulcinella, the Suite After Pergolesi. Stravinsky made this arrangement in 1925 for the Polish virtuoso Pavel Kochansky, and it is more exhibitionist and less lyrical than the arrangement he made for Samuel Dushkin in 1932. The technical exhibitionism gets in the way of the music. Stravinsky and Dushkin had a great rapport, and the music Stravinsky composed for Dushkin is some of the finest in the 20th Century violin repertoire.
The next piece arranged from one of Stravinsky’s ballets, Divertimento, is drawn from The Fairy’s Kiss. The music is a blend of original themes and themes borrowed from Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky’s tend to sound more angular, while Tchaikovsky’s are more lyrical, making a delightful contrast. The Duo Concertante is a completely original work inspired by classical culture with a jig thrown in. The ‘Chanson Russe’, drawn from Petrouchka is a rousing encore piece and is appropriately placed at the end of the program. Chen’s way with the music is closer to the lyricism of Cho- Liang Lin than to the spiky energy of Dora Bratchkova (Jan/Feb 2004). I still somewhat prefer Lin because of his more assured lyricism and his excellent partner, Andre-Michel Schub.
There is one thing about this that makes it exceptional. I had never liked the ‘Chanson Russe’, also known as the ‘Russian Maiden’s Song’ from the one-act opera Mavra, and thought to myself, “oh well, it’s only a few minutes”. Lo and behold, it is by far the best performance I have ever heard of the piece and one of the best on this program. I suspect that Chen knows the context of this music in the opera itself, so vividly does he characterize each section.