"Chen's playing is brilliant, subtle, and spontaneous, and his mastery of the piano's tone colors makes the music highly effective, especially for those who want to hear the audible connections between Ravel and Scriabin." -- All Music Guide
The years between 1900 and 1914, as historian Philipp Blom notes, were a “period of extraordinary creativity in the arts and sciences, of enormous change in society and in the very image people had of themselves.” The works on this album, composed in that era, are emblematic of that creative ferment, poised between the ‘good old days’ and the rapid onslaught of modernity.
Pianist Sean Chen has been hailed as a rising star with a “million-volt smile” and aRead more “formidable set of fingers” (Dallas Morning News). In 2013 he won the American Pianists Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship, one of the most lucrative and significant prizes available to an American pianist.
R E V I E W S:
SCRIABIN Valse in A?, op. 38. Piano Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5. RAVEL Menuet antique. Valses nobles et sentimentales. Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn. Prélude (1913). RAVEL (arr. Chen) La valse • Sean Chen (pn) • STEINWAY & SONS 300029 (67:57)
It’s a nice idea to juxtapose music by Ravel and Scriabin in this disc entitled La Valse (although it is a bit of a stretch to fit Scriabin’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Sonatas into this descriptor), two composers whose heady chromaticisms readily complement each other, while each composer comes from different aesthetic standpoints. Here is a program of works which, except for Ravel’s La valse, were composed between 1895 and the beginning of the First World War. Florida-born Pianist Sean Chen was a prizewinner at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; he trained at Juilliard and Yale. This present disc was recorded as part of Chen’s deal as winner of the American Pianist Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship.
Scriabin’s La valse of 1903 is given a delicious performance. Once the excellence of the piano recording has sunk in, it is Chen’s sensitivity that impresses. The contrast with Ravel’s Menuet antique is clear in Chen’s hands; here, artifice is highlighted, a sense of gentilité absent from Scriabin’s expressive vocabulary.
The two-movement Fourth Sonata of Scriabin is one of his most impressive utterances. Chen is supremely sensitive in the heady yet delicate Andante, while his Prestissimo volando is not only volatile but promises a volcanic eruption. One gets the impression that had this performance been live, the promise would have been delivered; as it is, the close does not quite reach the ecstatic. As the pull of the theosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky took Scriabin over (theosophy, as a belief system, still exists today), Scriabin’s language became ever more elusive, an embodiment of the mystical in sound. The Fifth Sonata in this sense acts as an extension of the Fourth. Chen is technically commanding here, and again there is much to commend. There is also the impression, though, that Chen is simultaneously trying to isolate the Chopin influence that had so dominated Scriabin’s earlier work. The effect is rather as if an earthbound, retrospective force is pulling away from the headlong ecstasy.
In fact, there is a general impression that Chen seems more comfortable with Ravel than with Scriabin. His Valses nobles et sentimentales is beautifully perfumed, the atmosphere magnificently sustained; however, the Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn perhaps shows a minor tendency towards clumsiness. Chen’s own arrangement of La valse is “drawn from Ravel’s different scores,” to quote the booklet note.
Comparisons for Ravel are legion, but of modern performances the major rival is Steven Osborne on Hyperion, who remains prime choice for his supreme attunement to Ravel’s expressive nature. Chen cannot compare with Richter in Scriabin (the Fifth Sonata). But as a stand-alone recital, this disc has much to recommend it.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
"Los Angeles native Sean Chen has the rare ability to combine poetic musical sensibilities and dazzling technical prowess. On La Valse, his debut album for Steinway & Sons, Mr. Chen delves into Ravel and Scriabin’s solo piano works... Mr. Chen’s charisma, remarkable musical depth and talent for coaxing subtle and surprising colors and textures from each work on the recording are only a few reasons to listen to La Valse more than once. The album itself is a fascinating blend of the two composers’ solo piano works for the waltz genre... Chen artfully develops Scriabin’s harmonic language that is marked by chromaticism and unconventional harmonies. He likens them to early Russian jazz, i.e. the use of 7th and 9th chords and progressive harmonies that are now characteristic in the jazz sounds of today. Mr. Chen plays the rhythmically complex works caressingly -- as if taking the listener on an intimate journey. Maurice Ravel’s La Valse was published as a Poeme choregraphique for orchestra but Ravel also composed versions for solo piano and for two pianos. The 13: 21 minute version on this album is Mr. Chen’s brilliant arrangement that is drawn from Ravel’s different scores. Also included is Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales - a suite of 8 miniature waltzes. Ravel did not differentiate the noble waltzes from the sentimental ones and it is up to the listener to discern which is which. Chen plays the entire suite with impeccable skills."
-- Paula Edelstein, LA Music Examiner
Sean Chen is a young American pianist with a promising career ahead of him. The winner of several recent competitions, including third place at last year’s Van Cliburn competition, Chen has been making waves wherever he has played.
The 25-year-old has just released his first album, and it’s spectacular. Focusing on some of the earlier works of Scriabin and Ravel, Chen displays his versatility, technical mastery, musicality and interpretative skills to the fullest. It’s an auspicious recorded debut and one can only hope there will be many more CDs from this talented young artist.
There are three works by Scriabin in this album: the Valse in A flat major, op. 38; and the Fourth and Fifth Piano Sonatas. It’s an absolute delight hearing him move from the lush romanticism of the Valse and Fourth Sonata to the more expansive and vigorous harmonic vocabulary of the Fifth. His playing is assertive and he shows that he has a solid grasp of the music.
As good as the Scriabin selections are, the real payoff is the Ravel. Chen offers a nice sampling of the composer’s works, including the
Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn and the brief
The real showstoppers, though, are the
Valses nobles et sentimentales and Chen’s own arrangement of
La valse. In each of these pieces, Chen captures the sweeping lines and pungent harmonies with his sensitive and perceptive playing. His account of the
Valse nobles et sentimentales is particularly noteworthy for his meticulously crafted phrasings and clean lyricism. This is one of the best performances of this piece on CD.
La valse is memorable for Chen’s virtuosic playing which he deftly modulates with finely molded expressiveness.
This album makes a perfect addition to one’s CD collection.
La valseby Maurice Ravel Performer:
Sean Chen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1920; France Notes: Arranger: Sean Chen.
Featured Sound Samples
Valse in A flat major, Op. 38 (Scriabin)
Valses nobles et sentimentales (Ravel): VII. Moins vif
Piano Sonata No. 4 (Scriabin): II. Prestissimo volando
La Valse (Ravel, arr.Chen): 1165521_Ravel arr. Chen_La Valse
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Almost like being thereJune 2, 2014By William Schneider (Yaphank, NY)See All My Reviews"I do not have the words nor music vocabulary to describe this cd.The sound is like having the piano in the room and the performance is first rate.I can not recommend this cd highly enough, the program is well chosen and enjoyable."Report Abuse