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Sean Chen’s ‘La Valse’ celebrates the music of Ravel and Scriabin

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'La Valse' by Sean Chen


Los Angeles native Sean Chen has the rare ability to combine poetic musical sensibilities and dazzling technical prowess. On La Valse, his debut album for Steinway & Sons, Mr. Chen delves into Ravel and Scriabin’s solo piano works. The recording is a part of Chen’s award package as the winner of the American Pianists Association’s DeHaan Classical Fellowship. Mr. Chen’s charisma, remarkable musical depth and talent for coaxing subtle and surprising colors and textures from each work on the recording are only a few reasons to listen to La Valse more than once.

The album itself is a fascinating blend of the two composers’ solo piano works for the waltz genre. Alexander Scriabin’s Valse in A flat major, Op. 38 opens the program. Mr. Chen also performs Scriabin’s two sonatas – Piano Sonata no 4 in F-sharp major, Op. 30, and Piano Sonata no. 5, Op. 53. Each is interspersed between the Ravel works. Chen artfully develops Scriabin’s harmonic language that is marked by chromaticism and unconventional harmonies. He likens them to early Russian jazz, i.e. the use of 7th and 9th chords and progressive harmonies that are now characteristic in the jazz sounds of today. Mr. Chen plays the rhythmically complex works caressingly -- as if taking the listener on an intimate journey.

Maurice Ravel’s La Valse was published as a Poeme choregraphique for orchestra but Ravel also composed versions for solo piano and for two pianos. The 13: 21 minute version on this album is Mr. Chen’s brilliant arrangement that is drawn from Ravel’s different scores. Also included is Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales - a suite of 8 miniature waltzes. Ravel did not differentiate the noble waltzes from the sentimental ones and it is up to the listener to discern which is which. Chen plays the entire suite with impeccable skills.

About Sean Chen

The 25-year-old American pianist has appeared as soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Suwon City Philharmonic, New West Symphony, and the Juilliard Orchestra. Highlights of his 2013-2014 season include return invitations with Indianapolis and Fort Worth, performances at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Jordan Hall in Boston, and recital and concerto appearances across the United States and Europe. He has performed new works by Lisa Bielawa, Michael Williams, Nicco Athens, Michael Gilbertson, and Reinaldo Moya, among others.