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Marc Rochester
The Classical Review, April 2012

The almost unrelenting festive spirit and frequent recourse to big, militaristic melodies in the Yellow River Piano Concerto give rise to a brilliantly virtuoso solo part, and Chinese pianist Chen Jie, still in her early 20s, clearly relishes every opportunity for grandstanding display. This is not a work that calls for intense concentration on behalf of the listener, and Chen’s flamboyant pianism provides a suitably dazzling front for music that paints its message in big, bright primary colors.

…the Butterfly Lovers Concerto…Here, under Taiwanese-born Carolyn Kuan…are every bit as polished, moving effortlessly between the dazzling and the reflective, with delightfully evocative solos from cello, flute and harp, and driving through the rapid changes of mood and character with unerring conviction.

The big question is does the Butterfly Lovers—much loved and regarded almost as a national treasure in China—succeed with the piano rather than the violin as the protagonist?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. More than that, after a very short time you forget entirely that it was not originally intended as a piano concerto, so wholly idiomatic and convincing is Chen’s arrangement. She is as agile and athletic as any virtuoso violinist, and there is a sense of real enjoyment in the way she interacts with Kuan and the NZSO. She portrays the concerto not so much as a simple musical retelling of a famous legend but, with the piano’s wider range and thicker textures, delves deeper to convey a sense of true dialogue between soloist and orchestra.

This performance of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto is no battle of an individual against a monolithic body of players, but a true example of collective teamwork. © 2012 The Classical Review Read complete review

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