Ray Chen: The Golden Age
I’ll wager that champagne corks were popping in the Decca Classics office when they first heard the finished master of ‘The Golden Age’, Ray Chen’s first disc with them, having jumped from Sony last year; and for my part, Chen has done the impossible and made me love ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but when it appears as a Gaelic flavoured romance-turned-reel for string quartet …
That little Aussie triumph sits as the final, zinging coda – and shout for Chen’s Australian upbringing – on a programme celebrating the era during which violinists such as Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz walked the earth, and the music of Debussy, Satie, Bruch, Scott and Gershwin was new.
It’s an internet generation-friendly bouquet. For outer blooms, Chen’s own slick quartet, Made in Berlin, perform three pieces penned by their cellist Stephen Koncz, inside of which are snuggled Kreisler and Heifetz violin-and-piano duos with pianist Julien Quentin. Bruch’s Violin Concerto then sits as the major central bloom – a warhorse bloom to be sure (and to mix metaphors), but, under Trevino and Chen’s control, an exhilarating one, full of drive. Chen himself plays with all his usual combination of suavity and kick, and his central Adagio is a particular joy: long, at 9'26", which allows us to appreciate both his ability to spin out huge musical lines of thought and the strong-boned, penetrating, caramel-toned passion of his sound.
Space precludes a thorough tour of the chamber works. However, I must trumpet Koncz’s quartet contributions because these are what really lift this already marvellous disc into genuinely fresh, new territories. Complementing the aforementioned ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is a sensuously perfumed arrangement of Clair de lune that plays straight with Debussy, while the disc-opening A New Satiesfaction is a delicately humming, serenely exhilarating spin on Satie’s Gymnopédie No 1 that’s guaranteed to appeal to Max Richter fans.
Joyful. Original. Stunningly played. What more could anybody want?