Ray Chen: an effortlessly expressive violinist.

Ray Chen: an effortlessly expressive violinist.

Melbourne Recital Centre, August 14

Musica Viva’s latest guests, violinist Ray Chen and pianist Julien Quentin, make a well-matched pair; not exactly equals but intensely aware of each other’s function in this national tour.

Chen, on his second tour with the company, gives his utmost, pushing his line forward with an impulsive drive and hefty vibrato that never fail.

First-timer Quentin is less insistent yet has the insight to challenge his partner when it’s necessary, exercising his own fine-boned personality in exposed passages.

Tuesday night began with two violin sonatas: Beethoven’s amiable first in D, and the rarely-heard No.2 by Grieg.

Packed with interest and nationalistic colour, the players delivered the latter in rewarding collaboration across its three movements – particularly the middle Allegretto with the opening violin melody richly articulated on the middle strings of Chen’s forward-speaking "Joachim" Stradivarius. Quentin brought an illuminating, deft attack to the finale, making sense of its oddly contoured phrase-lengths.

Commissioned for this tour, Sydney composer Matthew Hindson’s Violin Sonata No.1, Dark Matter, falls into two movements. The first is an elegy that suggests a nocturne, if not particularly sombre; the second attempts to illustrate volatile cosmic energy.

While the work gives its players a workout in styles, little remains after the experience: the explosions of the latter half regularly fall into predictable rhythmic patterns and harmonic language.

The duo followed with Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, persuasively alternating ferocity with tenderness.

Then came an inbuilt encore with Monti’s Csardas, an ideal vehicle for Chen’s flamboyant, irresistible virtuosity.

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