Only 23 years old, Taiwanese Australian violin virtuoso Ray Chen is on a sharply ascending career path; winner of both the Queen Elizabeth and Yehudi Menuhin competitions, he has acquired a Stradivarius and is recording for Sony Classical. On Friday evening he gave a very good recital at the Australian Embassy, presented by the Embassy Series, a movable feast of concerts held at various embassies around town.
Notwithstanding his many gifts and accomplishments, Chen is still a developing artist. He possesses what cannot be taught: a sense of ease and fun onstage, a very keen ear and a fluid technique that dismisses any difficulty on the instrument. But his tone is not completely natural; his left hand isn’t rounded and relaxed, and the vibrato tightens in loud passages. In the otherwise dazzling Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns, he never actually produced a spiccato stroke, the bow pretty much staying on the string.
Chen’s musicianship is fresh and youthful, meaning, on the downside, that it’s sometimes naive and sometimes maudlin. The tempo changes in the different episodes of the Saint-Saëns (none indicated by the composer) were way overdone, and Chen’s Mozart sonata (K. 454) was energetic but callow.
However, in partnership with his superb pianist, Julio Elizalde, Chen delivered the Brahms Sonata No. 3 with passion, precision and surging momentum, certainly the high point of the evening. This young artist has charisma and chops; one fully expects that maturity and experience will eventually fill in the remaining gaps.
Battey is a freelance writer.