Sean Chen

La Valse

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While the pieces on this 2014 Steinway and Sons release were chosen to reflect the changing musical styles between 1900 and 1914, when there was a dramatic shift from late Romanticism to the beginnings of modernism, it only focuses on two composers, Maurice Ravel and Alexander Scriabin, neither of whom is especially representative. Ravel's delicately balanced and refined music may be said to point backward to the French Baroque and Classical eras, while Scriabin's more volatile pieces show an unprecedented leap forward, from the intimate Romanticism of Chopin almost to the mysterious abstractions of atonality. These composers represent no school of thought or movement, and their strong, readily identifiable styles give little insight into the ideas of their contemporaries. It appears that pianist Sean Chen selected these works with a different idea in mind, to show the places where Ravel and Scriabin overlapped, particularly in their use of impressionistic harmonies and the piano's atmospheric sonorities. In this way, similarities between Scriabin's Valse in A flat major and Ravel's Menuet antique become apparent, while the chromatic lushness of Scriabin's middle piano sonatas is not too far removed from the harmonic richness of Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales and La valse. Chen's playing is brilliant, subtle, and spontaneous, and his mastery of the piano's tone colors makes the music highly effective, especially for those who want to hear the audible connections between Ravel and Scriabin.

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