A young prizewinner lays out his stall in two concerto warhorses
In 2008 the 19-year-old Ray Chen won the Menuhin Competition playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The following year he won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels playing Tchaikovsky. Now here they both are on disc for us all to hear why. These are the performances of a remarkable player, with a technical assurance few can match coupled with a distinct, mature musical personality. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is a young artist playing, in the best sense. In both works there is a sense of joy and spontaneity, of someone who has the measure of them but who has not been taking them round the circuit for years. The first movement of the Tchaikovsky has a spring in its step, a lightness to match its power and pathos, and there are touches of elfin humour in the finale.
The Mendelssohn has both grace and strength – there is considerable heft in the first orchestral tutti – and, although Chen plays free and easy with the tempo of the second subject, this is a refreshingly straightforward account, full of beautiful details of phrasing and moments when his sweet, focused tone blossoms into serious richness and warmth. He and Daniel Harding make good partners in this well-balanced recording, which also has some fine contributions from the orchestra’s wind section.