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Sa Chen

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Sa Chen reviews

Critic Reviews, Sa Chen
'A brilliant pianist….'
Emmanuel Ax, pianist
'Played like an angel from heaven'
Paul Badura Skoda, pianist
"That Chopin sonata -- one of the highest mountains of the music world -- well, she just naturally makes it stunning and musical,"
Tamas Ungar, piano professor at Texas Christian University
and executive director of the TCU/Cliburn Piano Institute.
“I have never heard such good Chopin’s sonata.”
Joseph Kalichstein, juror of
the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, pianist
A truly idiosyncratic musical mind with something new to say without every breaking away from the score……Tempos are judged correctly and her always-wonderful singing phrasing and rhythmic élan make every bar shine with a crystal-clear brightness.
Pianist magazine
March, 2009
Her sensitivity shines in these Chopin concertos.
M.K.G., Buffalo News
2nd November, 2008
Her playing matches virtuosity with poetry.
(On Sa Chen’s Chopin Concertos SACD on PentaTone label)
Tim Parry, BBC Music Magazine
November 2008
A soulful performance of the Chopin concertos……Sa Chen is one of the brightest performers of her generation.
(Sa Chen’s Chopin Concertos SACD on PentaTone label was selected by Simon Bates of Classical FM as CD of the Week right after its release worldwide)
Simon Bates, Classical FM, London, UK
6th October, 2008
Chen's reading with Sung proved more coherent and involving (than pianist Nelson Freire). The pianist's chamber music-like dialogues with clarinet and violins, dominated the eventful opening Allegro, created a memorable poetic intimacy. (After Sa Chen’s debut concert with LA Phil at Hollywood bowl playing Schumann’s concerto under baton of Shi-Yeon Sung stepped in for an ailing Edo de Waart on 26th August, 2008)
Rick Schultz, Los Angeles Times
28th, August 2008
Chen Sa eschews Lang (Lang)’s trademark mannerisms, and tops Li (Yundi)’s technical brilliance by having that element of the personal human touch.
Effortless pianism on the fingers may be commonplace these days, but it is the heart and soul of an artist that make live recitals such as this one well worth attending.
Strait Times, Singapore
8th March 2007
Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody, she clearly had a concept of the color, sound effects and extramusical associations of a piece that too many young pianists view as a collection of notes.
Star Telegram
3rd June, 2005
She found melodicism and gentle emotions in the thorny academic knots of the late Beethoven sonata, so expect that she can unlock some tenderness in a work that conductor Leopold Stokowski once dismissed as a set of technical exercises with orchestral accompaniment……. What's important is that she have the audience on the edge of its chair in anticipation of the joyful outburst that follows.
Star Telegram
2nd June, 2005
“…A promising up-and-coming artist…”
Wayne Lee Gay
Star-Telegram, June 2005
Chen proved to be an ideal collaborator for the Takacs Quartet from the beginning moments of Dvorak's Quintet in A, blending a delicious sotto voce tone into the lively monument of 19th-century chamber music. ……. And, once again, she displayed the ability to fade into the ensemble or take the spotlight when appropriate. The finale reiterated the gift for romantic pianism and for chamber music collaboration.
Star Telegram
27th May, 2005
(Sa Chen) rescued the evening with a rousing, refreshing Beethoven Emperor Concerto……there wasn't a boring note, the phrases shapely and goal-oriented, the finale setting off as a splendidly earthy dance.
Dallas Morning News:
2nd June, 2005
This performer has tackled substantial programs with authority and spirit.
Dallas Morning News:
30th May, 2005
Sa Chen) played with authority and élan. A radiant tone and fastidious attention to color and balance of chords were evident from the opening of Beethoven's A-flat major Sonata (Op. 110). She made three etudes by Chopin, Liszt and Stravinsky sound almost too easy, but Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit was riveting start to finish. A genuinely diabolical "Scarbo" rose to a hair-raising climax.
Dallas Morning News:
21st May, 2005
the most hair raising “Gaspard” you’d ever want to hear. She must have made a pact with Scarbo himself to play the piece like that. Suddenly Martha Argerich looked tame. But Sa Chen is thoughtful, as well as scary. Her program included a sensational “Feux Follets” and etudes by Stravinsky and Chopin (showing her thirds are as great as her sixths), but there’s a real musical mind too in this bundle of fingers, and that’s scary.
Dallas Morning News:
21st May, 2005
“Sa Chen's reading of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5…showcased her bright tone, rhythmic bite and attentive blend with the orchestra …[and her] elegance, strength of character and gorgeous tone dominated Rachmaninoff's Paganini Variations.”
Michael Huebner
Birmingham News, USA, June 2005
'She is no doubt the foremost woman pianist from China.'
Capital Culture Magazine
Beijing, China, September 2004
Chen has mastered the secret of singing with her instrument. In the past year, I’v heard only two other pianists, both in their 70s, who could conjure a comparable legato line. Her dynamics are minutely calibrated, her control of the damper pedal exquisitely nuanced.
Larry Fuchsberg
Star Tribune, Minneapolis, USA, 3rd February, 2004
'…With her performance in today’s Chopin’s Concerto No.2, she can be listed among the great Chopin interpreters. '
Music Weekly
Beijing, China, April 2003
'Sa Chen…rendered the second and third movements of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with virtuosity but also with rare intelligence and elegance. She is one of the few pianists who can remind us that there can be—in the right hands—more to Liszt than fast fingers. '
Johanna Keller
MusicalAmerica, November 2002
In Scarlatti’s F minor KP466, Sa Chen immediately impressed with the most ravishing line and tone. her mature understanding of architecture and style enabled her to communicate the very heart of all that she played...and her logic and freedom were so finely balanced and her emotional response to the music just seemed so nature and spontaneous...'
Gordon Fergus-Thompson
Piano Magazine, London July/August, 2000
'...her Chopin sounded with impacting intenseness and the depth,  at the same time extremely romantic and was just simply beautiful and noble interpretation of Chopin...'
'Gazeta Wyborcza'
'...her performance was full of the varied charm which appeared to the audiences the boldness, sensitivity, contrasting dreaming lyricism and the magical sound creation....'
Hanova Magazine,      
Tokyo, Japan.
Anchorage Daily News          November 8, 2005

Review: Pianist showcases prize-winning works

SURPRISING: Sa Chen displays both interpretive and technical virtuosity.


You expect the Van Cliburn Piano Competition's Crystal Award winner to play with total command of loud, fast and frantic music. Sa Chen lived up to those expectations in her Atwood Concert Hall recital Sunday afternoon.

But perhaps the most unexpected pleasure of the concert came from the aching, tender way she played the relatively simple Adagio of the Haydn Sonata in C that opened the program. Many exciting moments would follow; this not especially showy number, however, had an intensely meditative quality that the pianist did not revisit. Yet it's the part of the recital that I'd most like to hear again.

The second half of the event began with Ravel's "Scarbo," the piece a pianist plays to prove she can handle the most difficult music in the repertoire. Great, sinister clouds of sounds swirled from the Steinway while individual notes remained admirably clear. Sa Chen employs a high degree of independent scapular action; her shoulders distinctly rise and fall separately with the hands. This can give her arms an almost ribbon like appearance as she conjures the lines of sonority.

Following the Ravel, she delivered a confident reading of three of Samuel Barber's "Excursions." The unmistakably American music -- Barber incorporates "The Streets of Laredo" into a polyrhythmic etude -- had a respectful, dignified feel in the hands of the internationally trained artist. (She has studied in England and Germany as well as her native China.)

Also on the program were Chopin's Third Piano Sonata, which she has recorded for the Harmonia Mundi label, and Liszt's "Spanish Rhapsody," one of her virtuosic specialties that particularly impressed those at last June's Cliburn Competition. Here in Anchorage, an enthusiastic response to the Liszt drew an encore, a trill-and-arpeggio-filled arrangement of a traditional Chinese song about moonlight on a crystalline lake.

Speaking of which: What is a Crystal Award? It's like third place, except that the winner gets the same dollar prize and contractual benefits that the first- and second-place winners do, acknowledgement of how close these contests among the ultra-talented are.