Winner of the Crystal Award at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Sa Chen has gained recognition from pianist-pedagogue Fou Ts’Ong as one of the leading young Chinese virtuosos. She packs quite a lovely piano tone certainly, and several of the pieces exploit her capacity for sensuous colors. She seems eager to impose her will on the massive Largo movement of Chopin’s B Minor Sonata, perhaps yet to learn that less is more. That Chen commands a passionate temperament finds plenty of evidence in her Presto non tanto Finale, a surging torrent of cascading emotions. Chen offers an expansive, tonally sumptuous Gaspard de la Nuit, vibrant in color and shimmering articulation of the striated palette Ravel exploits. Ondine acquires an aggressive momentum thoroughly in keeping with her sometimes spiteful nature. Obsessive morbidity marks Le Gibet, with Chen’s keeping a tight leash on the B-flat, the peal of a bell juxtaposed against a corpse’s sunbaked form, twisting on the scaffold. The nervous energy with which Chen imbues poet Bertrand’s mischievous dwarf Scarbo segues naturally to the Lisztian, opulent bravura of the Spanish Rhapsody. Chen’s washes of variegated color in Ravel remind me much of Yevgeny Mogilevsky’s stunning rendition, and that is saying something.
Sebastian Currier (b. 1959) is a New York composer and teacher who wrote Scarlatti Cadences in the 1990’s for pianist Emma Tahmizian. Rather like a toccata, the piece uses runs and dotted figures in the manner of Scarlatti, given that the harmonic patterns have a contemporary bite. Brainstorm is a product of Rome, 1994, and it increases the voltage by several levels of intensity. The mad, jazzy riffs and wild leaps between registers might remind some listeners of Keith Jarrett improvisations. The Spanish Rhapsody ends the recital proper, and Chen plays it for all the ostentatious wizardry of effect she can conjure, without sacrificing whatever nobility of line the piece retains, regardless of the lure of pompous vulgarity. Serving as an encore is Stravinsky’s Etude in E-flat Major, the composer’s effort to sound like Scriabin and Rachmaninov at once. When the last rush of notes finishes, the crowd hails Chen as an honest virtuoso.