Tony Chen Lin’s Digressions by Jed Distler

Digressions

Classics Today
Tony Chen Lin’s Digressions

Digressions
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Sonata BB 88 (Sz. 80) [13:23] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV 816 [17:06] Tony Chen LIN (b. 1988)
Digression (Meditation on R. S.) [5:15] Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Humoreske, Op. 20 [30:10] Tony Chen Lin (piano)
rec. 2018, Adam Concert Room, New Zealand School of Music, Wellington
RATTLE RATD080 [66:06]

Pianist Tony Chen Lin understandably tries to explain and justify why he’s brought these particular four compositions together for a recital disc. Yet he doesn’t need to, because they add up to a wonderfully contrasted program.

Opening with Bartók’s Piano Sonata guarantees attention, especially considering Lin’s grounded rhythm and decisive articulation in the outer movements. In addition, he successfully reconciles the central movement’s sustained lyricism and forceful “pesante” qualities. Lin also strikes a happy balance mixing and matching legato cantabiles and clipped detaché phrases through Bach’s G major French Suite. My only half-quibbles concern an overly fast Bourrée, plus rhythmic mannerisms in the Gavotte and Loure.

While Lin displays plenty of sensitivity and musicality in Schumann’s Humoreske, I miss the textural clarity and marked contrasts in mood that other pianists bring out. In the rapid Sehr Lebhaft section, for example, Lin shifts focus between the perpetual motion 16th notes and the bass lines in a seemingly random manner, compared to Claudio Arrau’s impeccable alignment and transparency.

Although Lin’s Digression purportedly draws upon Schumann for inspiration, his sparse, slow-motion language and telling use of silence and long decaying resonances superficially follow the Morton Feldman/Toru Takemitsu playbook. Yet Lin’s strong creative personality is borne out in the music’s purposefulness and careful craftsmanship. Dare I say that I find Lin to be a more interesting composer than pianist? I look forward to hearing more of his own music!

Jed Distler Link