It is with pleasure that I introduce music critic Laura Biemmi, alumni of the AYO Word’s About Music program and UWA music graduate who you may also know as an oboe player and teacher. It’s great to have another music critic on-board to cover Perth’s ever-growing classical music scene. Here is Laura’s first review for Noted.

Musica Viva: Ray Chen and Julien Quentin

Review: Laura Biemmi

Musica Viva’s 2018 international concert season has already been a huge success with Perth audiences, showcasing world-renowned performers such as Sabine Meyer,the Alliage Quintett and Joyce Yang. The anticipation in the Perth music community for violinist Ray Chen and pianist Julien Quentin to grace the Perth Concert Hall stage was tangible; the Taiwanese-born, Australian raised Chen is one of Australia’s greatest musical exports, and to have him come back to Australia to perform was extremely exciting. Together, Chen and Quentin delivered a high-energy night of heady romanticism, technical brilliance and beauty of sound in a highly satisfying musical evening.

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Ray Chen and Julien Quentin. Photo Alex Jamieson

To begin with Vitali’s Chaconne (or is it really Vitali’s? The authorship debate rages on!) was a chance for Chen to establish his musicianship and virtuosity from the outset. Full of Baroque drama, Chen relished the dramatic narrative of the work playing with glimmering golden sound and phrasing brimming with yearning and anticipation. This was aided by his exquisite technique, which involved ridiculously in-tune double stops and voicing. However, Chen’s fast passages were often too prominent in the texture, and obscured Quentin’s interesting lines. This ensemble issue extended to– or maybe was a result of– the staging, where Chen played out to the audience with his back to Quentin. It was odd to watch two people make music together with no visible interaction.

Franck’s Sonata in A for violin and piano allowed Quentin more space to shine; when he was not engaging in dialogue with Chen, he was virtuosic in his own right, propelling the piece forward with alternating episodes of percussive passion and gentle pulsation. Chen’s virtuosity in this piece, particularly in the stormy restlessness of the second movement, was matched by his musical maturity. A keen understanding of the rich harmonic fabric of the sonata allowed Chen to employ an expressive colour palette. His light, crystal-clear opening was particularly moving and the piece developed further  a darkness crept into  his sound. Occasionally, Chen’s excessive vibrato bordered on distracting, but his vibrato on the second last note of the piece– an extremely in-tune harmonic- was nonetheless impressive.

After the interval I was looking forward to hearing some work composed during the 20th Century and beyond. The Romanticism of the first half, gorgeous as it was, was heavy and emotional. Chen and Quentin nearly cleansed my palette, but not quite. In Ysaye’s Sonata in D minor Chen’s clarity of voicing, clean rhythmic figures and impressive drone effects were refreshing but retained the footprints of Romanticism. Similarly, Matthew Hindson’s Dark Matter, a gorgeous sonata perfectly composed for Chen’s style of playing and Romantic aesthetic, was hard to concentrate on. The piece pays tribute to Hindson’s father and though Chen relished his role as a storyteller, the long Romantic lines were too reminiscent of the rest of the evening and the fleeting flashes of modern harmonies and extended flourishes too brief.

The evening concluded with Ravel’s Tzigane, which traded extreme Romanticism for Romani seduction. Chen truly sparkled in this piece; his impressive intonation, quick-as-a-whip left hand pizzicato and clean harmonics facilitated a thrillingly varied interpretation, which involved him enjoying the music so much he started dancing on the spot. Quentin similarly excelled with Ravel’s colourful piano writing. However, the true palette cleanser came in the encore. In the absence of bells and whistles and extreme emotion, the beautiful arrangement of a traditional Mexican folksong reminded the audience of Chen’s musical sensitivity and beauty of sound.

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