Pianist Jenny Q Chai Pays Tribute to Seymour Lipkin
Songs of Love Jenny Q Chai, piano. Divine Art 25228 Total Time: 51:09 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Pianist Jenny Q Chai’s new album is a change of pace for the artist who is known for her performances of avant-garde and contemporary music. Songs of Love is intended as a tribute to her teacher/mentor Seymour Lipkin (1927-2015) who taught at the Curtis Institute. Lipkin’s core repertoire revolved around the early romantics and Bach. It is from those core composers that Chai has chosen this set of three pieces.
The album opens with an exquisite performance of the “Aria” from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The lyrical line here is caressed lovingly by Chai and it creates an almost meditative quality to the opening of this album. It is followed by the second movement from Ive’s Concord Sonata (1921). The work uses the rhythmic idea from Beethoven’s fifth symphony as a unifying device and has quotes of that opening motive to clarify this connection even further. What is telling in Chai’s performance ishow the opening bars of the work seem to grow out of her interpretation of the Bach in terms of articulation. In the Ives too, she finds a way to bring out the lyrical aspects of this music that helps us hear the way Ives is looking back in time while also adding his own idiosyncratic touches. The beautiful second thematic area with its parlor qualities, is quite stunning. One can hope that perhaps Chai will tackle the whole sonata as her performance here is quite stunning.
Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16 took its inspiration from a character created by E.T.A. Hoffman. In the eight movements of this 1838 work, Schumann indulges his own fantasy in the wildly divergent characters from Hoffman’s work. The melodies are among some of the composer’s most engaging and it also features some of his finest piano writing. Chai’s connection to the work comes from it being one of her graduation recital pieces—a work she has performed and lived with for almost two decades now. Her performance is impassioned and shows off more of her technical virtuosity coupled with her fine sense of line and lyrical interpretation. It all sounds so effortless in her hands that it entrances the listener.
Divine Arts’ sound gives us a rich sound picture to enjoy Chai’s performance and further enhances her own pedal work and technical skill. While these are all quite familiar works, the combination here really helps provide a fine reminder of Chai’s interpretive skill in more familiar repertoire—something that can be overlooked in more contemporary works. The pacing of the album and general flow of the program also work beautifully in a release that comes highly recommended even at the short playing time.