Anita Chen Piano and Violin CD

Anita Chen - Piano and Violin Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Piano Concerto in A minor (1867-68) [28:32] Julius Edwardovich Conus (1869-1942) Violin Concerto in E minor (1898) [19:10] Albert MARKOV (b. 1933) Excerpts from ďFormosaĒ Suite (c. 1999): Taiwanese Improvisation [3:43]; Formosa Capriccio [7:58] Anita Chen (piano, violin) Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky rec. March 2006, Moscow Radio Studio 5. DDD BEL AIR MUSIC BAM 2039 [59:26]

Here we have a double threat. The sixteen year old Anita Chen appears on this new disc as both piano and violin soloist. Not only is this a chance to experience the playing of a new artist, but to see how the same artist plays two very different instruments.

Ms. Chen was born in 1991 in New Jersey, outside of New York City. She studies with Oxana Yablonskaya at the Juilliard for piano and Albert Markov - of whom more later - at the Manhattan School of Music. The album begins with the Grieg piano concerto and then moves to a violin concerto and two excerpts from a concerted work for violin by Alexander Markov.

I began listening with the violin as opposed to the piano, specifically the Conus. The Conus family comprised a number of musicians - all of them well known in Moscow in the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth. Julius Edwardovich Conus was a close friend of Rachmaninov, playing the violin in several Rachmaninov premieres. The concerto is a one-movement work with three sections and a lengthy cadenza inserted before the third section. Ms. Chen makes her entrance in an almost ethereal fashion which quickly changes to a driven account of the first section. Her treatment of the melodic lines is lovely, although she occasionally slips up on intonation. She gets the maximum amount of drama out of this section and continues to do so in the second. In the cadenza she cannot compare with old Itzhak Perlman recording, but then no one would expect her to. I have not heard the 2002 recording with David Garrett and cannot make a comparison there. The best way to describe Anita Chenís playing is dynamic, not only full of energy, but never once hesitating in her progress through the piece.

As mentioned above, Anita Chen studies the violin with Albert Markov. In addition to teaching and performing Markov is a composer, one of the few performer/composers around today. Ms. Chenís talent and background inspired him to write a suite on Taiwanese themes, of which two movements are performed here. The first, an improvisation, is actually for violin solo and gives the violinist a chance to show off her ability to maintain a single structure. The second excerpt, a Capriccio for violin and orchestra is less impressive as music, although the soloist handles it well.

The Grieg Piano Concerto needs no introduction. What is of greatest interest here is how much Anita Chenís playing at the piano differs from her playing on the violin. Where the Conus performance was driving and direct, her approach to the Grieg stresses the poetic over the motoric, perhaps too much. The orchestra follows suit, playing much more timidly than they do in the violin works. All seem to be saving their strength for the cadenza and the end of the movement. The second movement is delivered more convincingly by all concerned, but the soloist is a little rough in some of the passagework, although always quite poetic.

The Russian Philharmonic plays very convincingly in the Conus - they obviously recognize a friend of Rachmaninov in the Markov. They have excellent string tone and play with a lot of energy. Unfortunately, the recording and the hall let them down. What is very smooth playing from the brass comes across as blaring and too loud. The winds are rather flat-sounding and distant. The microphones seem too close to the soloist much of the time. It is to be hoped that Ms. Chen will be better served sound-wise in the future. She looks likely to become a tremendous violinist. She will need to become more forceful to be as impressive on the piano, but it would not surprise me if she has talent to spare for both instruments.

William Kreindler