Lanaudiere Festival – Sa Chen plays Chopin

Chopin
Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op.44
Mazurkas – in F minor, Op.68/4; in A minor, Op.67/4; in C sharp minor, Op.63/3; in C sharp minor, Op.27/1; in B flat minor, Op.9/1
Nocturne in E flat, Op.55/2
Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58

Sa Chen (piano)


Reviewed by: Patrick P. L. Lam

Reviewed: 29 July, 2010
Venue: Église de Saint-Thomas, Joliette, Québec

Sa Chen. Photograph: www.chen-sa.comLocated approximately 55km northeast of Montréal, Joliette is a town of over 50,000 inhabitants with a historical lineage that can be traced to its founder, Barthélemy Joliette. In addition to serving its municipal county with a rich diversity of agricultural products from home-made honey to fruit farms, Joliette is the home of the Festival de Lanaudière during July and August. Serving Canadians for over three decades, the Lanaudiere Festival is established as a result of the vision of its founder, Father Fernand Lindsay.


This was the first recital here of the Chinese pianist Sa Chen. She has natural instincts for sounding the poetry of music without sacrificing its form, for effecting a bold energy in the most tempestuous moments without sounding forceful, and for provoking a full-bodied tone along with an equal adeptness in a lightness of touch that can stimulate wide-ranging orchestral sounds. She was at ease with the Polonaise, ably setting the opening with a mysticism that unfolds into bold drama, bringing out the galloping motif of the dance with finesse and rhythmical precision.


Although the presentation of the Mazurkas could have infused a greater sense of rhythm and character, her performance struck a similar resemblance to the poetry of esteemed versions by Alexander Brailowsky and Artur Rubinstein. Her poetry evolved a myriad of colours, particularly in the Mazurka Opus 67/Number 4; likewise in Opus 63/Number 3, her interpretation resembled a song-like meditation with a sorrowful element in the recapitulation. The use of rubato in the Nocturnes was sparing but effective. She ended the first half with a strong account of the C sharp minor. While her bass-line emulates a bell-like sonority to pre-set the crystalline right-hand treble passages, there are one or two small instances (in the octave passages) when her bass-line is muffled by over-pedalling.


Chen’s account of the B minor Sonata was the most successfully performed piece of the evening, and it possessed greater musical growth than in her account of this work when recorded at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005. She triumphed in the poetic aspects of the opening two movements, evoking what may be considered the pianistic equivalent of a bel canto style. The constant struggle between the minor and major keys in the finale further elaborates on Chen’s musicianship and technical confidence, Chen demonstrating greater shades of tone and a clear balance between opposing figures with glowing exquisiteness. The transition into the march-like passages in the closing pages highlighted her rhythmical wisdom. One of the 24 Preludes served as an encore.



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