Sa Chen is a young Chinese pianist who won third prize at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and was a student in China of the redoubtable Dan Zhaoyi and protégé of fabled Fou T'song in London. There is no question that she is the real deal.
However, this recital disc from the center of the virtuoso pianist repertoire (six of Rachmaninoff's Études tableaux and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition) plus a transcription of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain shows a pianist who while technically secure is still an immature musician. Night on Bald Mountain, an obscure transcription made by Konstantin Chernov of Rimsky-Korsakoff's version of Mussorgsky's tone poem, is nicely played, I suppose, but the transcription is clumsy. (Perhaps I simply much prefer to hear Rimsky's orchestration, which is so evocative.) I think most people would find the work negligible and not deserving of many hearings.
Chen chooses six of Rachmaninoff's seventeen études tableaux: Op. 33, Nos. 2 in C, 3 in E flat, & 5 in G minor; and Op. 39, Nos. 4 in B minor, 5 in G minor & 6 in E flat minor. She manages the slower études fairly well, but the more sprightly études lack lightness and spark although all the notes are in place. I particularly like the lyricism of the Op. 33, No. 5 in G minor. I was not convinced by the drama of Op. 39, No. 6 in A minor, which seemed a bit labored. I will continue to prefer the favorite performances of many cognescenti, those of Constance Keene Rachmaninoff: Etudes Tableaux Complete Op.33 & 39 or the classic Richter ...Rachmaninov: Preludes; Etudes-tableaux .
Some of the same criticisms might be applied to Chen's performance of Pictures at an Exhibition, except that it is the faster movements that are better (e.g., Ballet of the Unborn Chicks in Their Shells) (although the final page of 'Limoges. La grand marché' is smudged) and the slower, more atmospheric ones (e.g. Samuel Goldenburg and Schmuyle) that don't somehow convey their pathos. I would recommend, rather, the Richter The Sofia Recital 1958.