CD Review: Premeditated effusion chills Ray Chen’s virtuoso violin album

Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concertos (Sony Classical)

There’s a double temptation in the great works of the canon: For marketers, it means instant recognition; for the performer, it offers a challenge to put their own stamp on a favourite piece of music.

Just ahead of his 23rd birthday, hot Taiwanese-born Australian violinist Ray Chen has released his second major-label album. It comes loaded with coolly powerful performances of two of the world’s favourite violin concertos, written 30 years apart in the heart of the Romantic era by Felix Mendelssohn and Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky.

These are among the most-played and most-recorded works in the violin concerto repertoire, begging instant comparison with legends past and present. These days, in Canada, James Ehnes is the standard to live up to, in my opinion, and, as wonderful as Chen is, he comes up a bit short.

The Australian’s technique is spectacular. He is also very expressive, but every stroke of his bow sounds premeditated. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it lends a chill to these otherwise effusively emotional pieces. I would also have preferred an ever so slightly lighter touch in the Mendelssohn concerto.

Chen gets excellent support from current It-boy British conductor Daniel Harding, who wrings much depth and colour out of the accompaniment by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

This disc is a wonderful introduction to two great pieces. Is it worth adding to your existing collection of Tchaikovsky recordings? I’m not sure.

Here is the promotional video made by Sony Classical:

John Terauds


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