Han Chen’s Stunning Naxos Liszt Debut

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Naxos’ survey of Liszt’s piano music seems to have been progressing in dribs and drabs, with little fanfare since its launch more than 20 years ago. However, if you’re a fan of Liszt and the highest order of transcendental virtuosity, grab Volume 41 right away. I first became aware of Han Chen, winner of the 2013 China International Piano Competition, as a commanding new-music pianist, one of many in New York. He’s also a composer. Since most new-music pianists don’t bother with Liszt (and when they do, it’s usually awful), I was prepared for the worst. Instead, I heard the best!

It isn’t just Chen’s assured, elegant, and totally effortless technique that blows me away, it’s also his idiomatic flair, his use of color and touch to convey character, plus a gift for textural variety and differentiation that one associates with golden age legends. Listen to the Bellini Sonnambula Fantasy’s carefully sculpted climaxes, and notice how the final pages’ buckets of chords and runs sing out with no strain, struggle, or imbalance whatsoever. The Polonaise from I Puritani swaggers with joyful scintillation, while the convoluted thematic juggling in the Freischütz Fantasy conveys a sense of lightness and play that Leslie Howard’s premiere recording keeps under wraps. The engineering replicates how a well-regulated concert grand sounds in a small hall with a luminous yet not overly resonant acoustic. Need I say more?

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Franz Liszt: Complete Piano Music Volume 41--Transcriptions from Operas
Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Ouverture zur Oper Oberon von Carl Maria von Weber; Fantasie sur des motifs favoris de l’opéra La Sonnambula; Schwanengesang und Marsch aus Hunyadi László von Ferenc Erkel; Halloh! Jagdchor und Steyrer aus der Oper Tony von Ernst II von Saschsen-Coburg-Gotha; Introduction et Polonaise de l’opéra I Puritani de Bellini; Fantasie über Themen aus Webers Der Freischütz; Zweite Festmarsch nach Motiven von E. H. z. S.-C.-G
  • Han Chen (piano)

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