The young Malaysian pianist Bobby Chen is not a stranger to recording but his début recording on SOMM’s New Horizons gives him the opportunity of performing works which have taken pride of place in his repertoire for some years now. He shows his considerable talent in works, by Prokofiev, which are both interpretatively and technically demanding.
We quote the following, largely from Robert Matthew- Walker’s informative booklet notes;:
“Prokofiev, himself a formidable pianist, completed nine piano sonatas out of a projected eleven. The Second Sonata was written in 1912. This was a rich period of creativity in the composer’s life, for we know that by then he had been writing music almost continuously for over ten years, yet he was still only 21. The Sonata first saw the light of day as a Scherzo for piano which he had submitted to Liadov as a composition exercise. In 1912 Prokofiev reworked it into his new Second Sonata, giving the first performance of the work in 1914. This proved a striking and original work to the Moscow audience and to their St. Petersburg counterparts a short time later, when Prokofiev repeated the work in that city.
To quote Irwin Freundlich who had heard Prokofiev play the Sonata several times in the United States in the 1920s, the four movements of the Sonata comprise ’lean, bare textures; vigorous, hard-hitting themes; ostinato figures coupled with driving rhythms headed for explosive climaxes; sharply-chiselled motifs linked to gauche figuration, the sardonic intent heightened by chromatically distorted harmonies.’ He also described the sound of the composer’s pianism as ‘…torrential, the virtuosity demonic, for Prokofiev’s gifts as executant were great and uninhibited.’
Five years after the appearance of the Second Sonata, Prokofiev again looked to his earliest inspirations to fashion two further piano Sonatas, the Third and Fourth, Opp 28 and 29. Much of the material for the Fourth Sonata (like the Third, also subtitled ‘From Old Notebooks’) originated in 1908. The Sonata is in three movements, with a misleading air of improvisation as their common characteristic, yet analysis reveals a series of unifying factors, often submerged beneath the constant activity of the first and third movements, and the wondrous keyboard writing. Prokofiev gave the first performance of the Fourth Sonata in St. Petersburg in April 1918.
The piano version of Prokofiev’s Opus 75, Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet must be considered as a separate, independent, piano work – not as a ‘second-hand’ score. In the piano suite, the order is changed considerably for musical reasons – we should not expect a narrative of the story – and the piano version differs in some material respects from the orchestral scores (the ballet and the concert suites). Prokofiev’s use of a separate opus number and his own public performance of the work in recital clearly show the importance he himself placed upon the keyboard version. But no matter in what form we hear it, the music could be by no other composer.
Prokofiev’s brilliant Toccata in D minor was written in 1912 and Prokofiev gave the first public performance in December 1916. It is surprising that the work had to wait three years for its first public hearing, for it has since become one of the most played of all 20th-century toccatas, supremely well written for the piano.
Acclaimed by the Guardian in London and the Singapore times, and described by International Piano Magazine as“… an armour-clad player of complete technique, a thinking musician, a natural romantic. Young bloods come no better”, Bobby Chen
Ruth Nye, who nurtured his talent at the Yehudi Manuhin School, brought him to the Royal Academy of Music where Chen also worked with Hamish Milne, winning no fewer than eight coveted awards, noticeably that for “Best final recital”. He was also awarded numerous scholarships and studied with artists such as Dmitri Bashkirov, John Lill, Charles Rosen, Nikolai Demidenko and Krystian Zimerman.
His highly successful concerto debut in 1998 with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra with Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations led to a collaboration with conductors Maximiliano Valdés, Lan Shui, Sir Neville Marriner, Lord Menuhin, Pierre-André Valade and several orchestras including the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields, Warsaw Sinfonia and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then, Bobby Chen has made appearances in British venues such as Bridgewater Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Room and the Wigmore Hall, London as well as travelled to Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, China, the USA, Australia and most of Europe.
Recent highlights include his performances of Rachminiov’s Piano Concertos with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orhcestra under Matthias Bamert and at the Midland Centre of the Arts in the USA, solo recitals at Fazioli Hall in Italy, and various major UK and International Music Festivals.
On This Recording
- Piano Sonata No. 2: I. Allegro, ma non troppo – Più mosso – Tempo primo
- Piano Sonata No. 2: II. Scherzo: Allegro marcato
- Piano Sonata No. 2: III. Andante
- Piano Sonata No. 2: IV. Vivace – Moderato – Vivace
- Piano Sonata No. 4: I. Allegro molto sostenuto
- Piano Sonata No. 4: II. Andante assai
- Piano Sonata No. 4: III. Allegro con brio, ma non leggiere
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 1. Folk Dance
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 2. Scene: The Street Awakens
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 3. Minuet: Arrival of the Guests
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 4. Juliet as a Young Girl
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 5. Masquers
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 6. Montagues and Capulets
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 7. Friar Laurence
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 8. Mercutio
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 9. Dance of the Girls with Lilies
- 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet: No. 10. Romeo and Juliet before Parting
- Toccata: Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11