Stella x Schubert = Rondo in B Minor; Fantasie in C Major; Sei mir gegrüßt; Ständchen – Stella Chen, violin/ Henry Kramer, piano – Platoon

by | Apr 11, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Stella x Schubert = Rondo in B Minor, D. 895; Fantasie in C Major, D. 934; Sei mir gegrüßt, D. 741; Ständchen, D. 957/4 – Stella Chen, violin/ Henry Kramer, piano – Platoon PLAT17190 (1/23/23) (46:11) ****:

American violinist Stella Chen (b. 1992) garnered worldwide attention with her first-prize win at the 2019 Queen Elizabeth International Violin Competition, followed by the 2020 Avery Fisher Career Grant and 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award. She is the first recipient of the Robert Levin Award from Harvard University, the top prize winner of the Tibor Varga International Violin Competition and youngest-ever prize winner of the Menuhin Competition.  Stella plays the 1700 ex-Petri Stradivarius, on generous loan from Dr. Ryuji Ueno and Rare Violins in Consortium, Artists and Benefactors Collaborative and the 1708 Huggins Stradivarius courtesy of the Nippon Foundation.

So much for the biographical formalities: we have less than an hour of vintage Franz Schubert from a youthful virtuoso in the likes of Szigeti, Gulli, and Heifetz. Recorded in September 2022 by Adam Abehouse at his studio in Westchester, New York, the recital combines wonderful, aerial songfulness and flawless technical acuity. A pity Chen and pianist Kramer did not add the sonatinas to create a fuller program for the collector. In her program note, Chen applauds Schubert for his “extraordinary ability to translate vulnerability into music.”  The 1826 Rondo Brillante in B Minor came to my attention via Joseph Szigeti and Franco Gulli, its relatively experimental form immediate gracious to me, while Schubert’s contemporaries frankly loathed it and its major companion, the magnificent Fantasie in C Major. Happily, for posterity, the Bohemian virtuoso Josef Slavik championed the work late in his all-too-brief life. Chen and Kramer apply a steady, gradual tension to the first four minutes of the Rondo that suddenly unleashes its kinetic energy in the rondo proper, with its accompanying, flowing, lyrical melody.

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky has declared the keyboard part of the 1827 Fantasie “the most difficult music ever written for the piano,” and “more difficult than all of Rachmaninov’s [piano] concertos put together.”  Structured in four, continuous movements, the Fantasie, akin to the composer’s equally brilliant “Wanderer” Fantasy, subdivides into a sonata structure that became the template for Liszt, Schoenberg and Berg. Its major “Andantino” section is a set of variations on Schubert’s own song, “Sei mir gegrüßt,” D. 741, roughly translated “I hail to thee!”  Elaborate and demanding, the variants close off with a reference to the watery arpeggios of the opening of the work, before exploding into the Allegro vivace that catapults us to the final bar. Chen calls the piece “my single favorite work of art.”

The actual song, in transcription, appears, “beautiful in its own right.” Whether an ardent applause to a loved one or a moment of emotional hyperbole, the melody enjoys a tearful lilt and swelling sentiment that define the Schubert ethos. So, too, the most familiar moment, in Mischa Elman’s transcription of the “Serenade” from the cycle Schwanengesang, D. 957 that concludes a recital meant to “remind us to appreciate the most delicate and fragile beauty in the world.”

—Gary Lemco

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