This past weekend the internationally celebrated Chinese/Austrian Pianist, Rueibin Chen, performed a solo piano recital featuring an all Rachmaninoff program, on Dec.7, 2013 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, CA.
While people familiar with Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concertos may have found this eclectic program challenging, lovers of classical music were in for a fascinating evening of rarely performed works. Chen, who has performed with all the major orchestras of the world, gave a recital that showed the depth of his musical taste and virtuoso skills.
The impressive Segerstrom Recital Hall was a good venue for Chen's playing, despite the acoustics which sometimes caused his tones to sound blurry. Especially refreshing to see, was the attendance of so many young families with children, along with many classical music supporters from our Asian community.
Rueibin Chen has been on the stage most of his life. He began his career as a child prodigy and went on to win the most prestigious International Piano awards including the Rachmaninoff Piano Competition. With an international solo career already now decades long, he is making another world-wide tour with his new Total Rachmaninoff Recital.
Chen opened the program with Rachmaninoff's playful Lilacs, Op.21, spun out with an alluring warm tone and perfect balance between left and right hands. Without break, he went on to play a completely contrasting work, bringing out the piano’s metallic tones for Rachmaninoff's brilliant arrangement of Bach’s Gavotte, No. 3.
Next was a heartfelt and nuanced performance of the Southern California premiere of Three Nocturnes, Op. 1, the first works composed by Rachmaninoff when he was just 14 years old. Chen then played the astonishingly difficult Rachmaninoff Preludes - Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No.5, Prelude in G Sharp Minor, No.12 and Prelude in D Major, Op.23 No. 4. After these demanding works, Chen closed out the first half with another fabulously intricate work, the Etude-Tableau in D Major, Op. 39, No.9, brilliantly executing complex passages with a myriad of tonal colors.
Despite Chen's virtuosic skills, there was something remote about the first half of his recital. He was not able to fully transmit the essence of these works to his audience, who while respectful, remained cool.
After intermission, the second half of Chen's ambitious recital presented the more familiar melodic and flashy Rachmaninoff style. Featured were arrangements by the composer of Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby, Bizet’s Minuet from L’Arliesienne, Fritz Kreisler’s Leibeslied and Leibesfreud, along with Rachmaninoff’s Daises, No. 5. In this repertoire, Chen seemed more at ease as did the audience. Concluding his recital with a thunderous Liebesfreude, a rowdy piece all fireworks and cascades of sound played at a tremendous pace, the audience responded with a very appreciative applause, calling the artist back for more.
Despite having given this demanding recital, Chen seemed visibly more relaxed and plunged into two encores from the famous Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2. Beaming and smiling on stage, he played with great power and flair. Responding to this encore performance, the audience gave him the thunderous applause he deserved.
While Chen's virtuoso skills are not always enough to compensate for his rather limited charisma on stage, there is no denying his superb ability with Rachmaninoff's repertoire.
Chen’s next appearance will be this coming spring, March, 2014, at the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, CA. For more information see: www.thewallis.org.
For more information about Rueibin Chen: www.rueibinchen.com.