Jie Chen, Setting the Pace

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

If you figured out the number of notes per minute that 19-year-old pianist Jie Chen played Sunday, she would have outscored most of her colleagues. Since entering the Shanghai Conservatory at 8, this prodigiously talented musician has garnered many prizes and played in prestigious venues. Equipped with the technical tools of the trade, she is ready for the next stage: discovering and conveying to her public what the music she plays is all about.

Her recital at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater opened with a matter-of-fact version of J.S. Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze," missing the ruminative, compelling quality of the cantata hymn that Leon Fleisher transfigured in a recent performance here. Schubert's late Sonata in A and Schumann's Sonata No. 2 -- both repertoire staples -- were virtually note-perfect and scrupulously measured. But these pieces call for more than the sheer brio with which Chen coated them. Underlying both sonatas is a lyrical element suffused with agonizing beauty. Yet, contrary to the composers' indications in their scores, gently spoken tunefulness was sacrificed to torrents of rarely relieved fortissimo.

Chen thoughtfully underlined the dance rhythms of two excerpts from Albeniz's suite "Iberia." But Balakirev's toccata-style "Islamey" brought only more onslaughts of notes exhibiting the percussive capabilities rather than the tonal depth of the Steinway's hammers.

-- Cecelia Porter

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