This album has a lot of spirit, and doesn’t lack for technical accomplishment. Chinese pianist Moye Chen has taken as his theme three composer/pianists (or in the case of Vladimir Horowitz it’s really pianist/composer) who made their home in the USA – Grainger, Horowitz and Rachmaninov.
In some ways this feels like a project in which – to use a gastronomic analogy – the dessert comes before the main course, because I can imagine almost any of the first 13 of the 16 tracks working as recital encores. Chen is wonderfully inside Grainger’s crunchy textures and hearty sentimentality, and his reading of Colonial Song is particularly gorgeous. He’s also in command of Grainger’s wild ragtime fantasy In Dahomey, where not only does the “feel” come to him naturally, but the considerable pianistic challenges hold no terrors for him either. Here, and in Horowitz’s outlandish fantasy on The Stars and Stripes Forever, Chen’s impish sense of humour is well to the fore.
He has a fine ear for the young Rachmaninov’s dynamism and elegance, and his singing line in the Op. 3 Mélodie is beautiful to behold. But his leisurely way with the Russian composer’s transcription of the Minuet from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne music is a harbinger of problems to come in his reading of the album’s grand finale, Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No 2. It sounds to me as if Chen has fallen in love with the music, not wisely, but too well, and is oftentimes reluctant to move on. In a big work like this the pianist is also ideally a strategist and a story-teller, someone who helps you perceive the landscape from a distance while also pointing out the beauty of the next hill. The piece holds no fears for Chen technically, but the competition on disc is fierce, and Ashkenazy, Jablonski and Kocsis (all on Decca), to name just three, have a better sense than Chen of how to pace this music.
Composer: Rachmaninov, Grainger
Performer: Moye Chen p
Catalogue Number: DG 4817037