Music

Ray Chen: Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos

Some of us have little league trophies. Ray Chen holds prestigious awards from world class violin competitions. These are the two concertos that helped him win.


Ray Chen/Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding

Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos

Label: Sony Classical
US Release Date: 2012-02-07
UK Release Date: 2012-02-06
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Can a good workman give credit to his tools? According to the young champion violinist Ray Chen, they can. They say that recordings, books, films and paintings don't happen by themselves, and he's not about to hog all of the credit for Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos, his second recording. "Music is teamwork," Chen is quoted in saying in the liner notes. "It only exists in the space between people." To sharpen his words, it exists in the space between lots of things. For one thing, Chen has been loaned two Stradivariuses, probably making him the envy of many a stringed musician. Secondly, he had conductor Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra at his disposal for the recording of Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos. And lastly, there are the two compositions at hand, a lifeline back to the days when violin concertos were grand scale works that weren’t afraid to sound as big as they dreamed. Ray Chen has won two separate competitions with performances of Tchaikovsky's "Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major, op.35" and Mendelssohn's "Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, op.64", causing him to be the slightest bit hesitant in pinpointing why he clinched both compositions so well: "Maybe I bring something new and fresh to them."

The Mendelssohn E-minor work got him top honors at the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists. He cinched the Tchaikovsky concerto in 2009 at the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Now just barely of legal drinking age in the states, Ray Chen has recorded both of the works that launched his career. They are two entirely different concertos from two different musical minds. You could even get away with saying that one is more manic-depressive than the other, though that would be a separate 500-word essay on its own. The beauty of a classical recording is that these gaps can be bridged with finesse, and Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos makes good on that. The most important factors are that Ray Chen sounds self-assured, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra never falters, and that the whole thing never bores you.

If you need a little background on these composers, just know that Tchaikovsky sits more in the Romantic era of the two individuals. He obeys many of the rules set before him, like using the orchestra to state the theme and not letting the soloist enter until business has been taken care of. The first and third movements are the speedier ones, the last borrowing from a peasant dance and maybe even offering distant echoes of "The Nutcracker". And at 36 minutes, it's quite lengthy. Felix Mendelssohn has been more of an enigma for musical historians -- a college professor of mine would snicker while discussing the contrary elements of "Elijah" -- give the guy a break -- often embodying Classical and Romantic traits within one movement. Right in the first five seconds of "Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, op.64" the lead instrument shows the way, rather than letting the orchestra set the scene. That comes later. And though Tchaikovsky had to deal with being a homosexual in 19th century Russia, Mendelssohn seemed to have more to be melancholic about with his work here. It could come from the whole Christian vs. Jewish inner-conflict. We all have our struggles, right?

Not Ray Chen. Not now. Everything seems to be falling into place for this young talent, and Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn Violin Concertos shows us that he is, in fact, deserving of the praise. Sure, he has a lot of living, learning and playing yet to come. But he also gave us a really great recording to enjoy.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image