March 13, 2011

Sean Chen



BACH: WTC II, Prelude and Fugue BWV 892
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata Op.109
SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana Op.16
CHOPIN: Etude Op.25 No.12
ELLIOTT CARTER: Caternaires

SEAN CHEN
, piano
Bolton Theater (Cleveland Playhouse)
2009

These spectacularly recorded concert performances have fascinated me for several months now, but not because of any revelations about the music. The fascination is at a meta-musical level:  I keep thinking that I am not supposed to like these performances, yet I have listened to them (without a gun to my head, so to speak) well over two dozen times by now, and I still don't feel like I am "done" with them.

The playing is very objective and emotionally reserved, but Chen's marbled tone, immaculate finger technique, and eminently sane tempos somehow keep the music from feeling cold.  Just when I think (for the umpteenth time!) that Chen's playing is simply a perfect example of a glossy Juilliard product, I recall a good many performances of Beethoven late sonatas, by "brand name" pianists, which (unlike Chen's Op.109) I would not hear a second time unless threatened with grave bodily harm.  And when I think of Chen's minimally inflected Kreisleriana as an oblique homage to Stravinsky, I huff and puff a bit, but then quickly recall all those metallic, ugly, hysterical, kitschy, or just pianistically unkempt performances I've heard over the years.  And suddenly feel grateful for the cool elegance of Chen's refined pianistic craft.

In the end, I still don't know what to make of these performances.  I suppose this fact alone already means something.  If only I knew what...

1 comment:

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