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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 - (1878)
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67 – (1808)
Kyung Wha Chung (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – Simon Rattle
recorded in the Musikverein,Vienna,1-2/11/00 and 18-20/12/00 - DDD.
EMI CDC5 57165-2 [73.18]

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This disc is a little strange. A live performance of the Beethoven 5th Symphony, coupled with a "Studio performance" of the Brahms Violin Concerto, both recorded in the same venue (the Musikverein). Judging from the notes supplied, this disc would appear to be more to do with the history of the Vienna Philharmonic and its tradition of playing both composers' works in its home city. I would have thought it was much more important to advertise the fact that this is Kyung Wha Chung’s first recording of the Brahms D Major Concerto. For me this is the most significant aspect of the disc.

If we tag along with EMI’s advertising blurb a bit longer however, much is being made of the "special relationship" that the orchestra has with Simon Rattle, and that a complete set of the Beethoven Symphonies is on the way. So why release the current issue?? It would make sense if the present performance was in any way outstanding. In an absolute way I suppose it is not too bad. If however you want to hear what the VPO can really do with Beethoven’s most popular symphony you only need to turn to the DG Originals disc of the same orchestra under Carlos Kleiber. There you will hear a Beethoven 5th which you will never forget – unlike the present offering. Just in case you think that this is a one off, try also Solti’s 5th also with the VPO recorded by Decca in the late 50s, and now released on a "twofer" in harness with Symphonies 3 and 7.

Both of these earlier recordings make Rattle’s 5th sound somewhat tame, although as I have said earlier, the current issue has no serious faults – played and recorded in exemplary fashion in good if not spectacular digital stereo sound.

Now however, we come to the highlight of the disc – Kyung Wha Chung’s reading of the Brahms Concerto. Her style of playing is well known, and this example is quite consistent with her earlier issues. Immaculate intonation, no extraneous finger noises, no obtrusive wide vibrato, and a character of playing which goes straight to the heart of any work she is playing. In case some may think that this could conjure up an impression of dullness let me say that her playing of this concerto is right up there with other great performances and it has given me much pleasure. How much better this disc would have been served if it had given us another violin concerto with these artists, rather than yet another version of the Beethoven 5th Symphony.

Rattle’s accompaniment is fine, up to a point. After all, here we have one of the major romantic violin concertos. Unfortunately under Rattle’s guidance again it seems a little tame. To show that I am not being too unkind to the current disc, all you need to do is turn to another EMI issue of the Brahms concerto issued simultaneously: Nathan Milstein with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Steinberg. The orchestral backdrop to the Brahms on this disc inhabits quite a different world, and it is unfortunate that we couldn’t have the VPO standard of playing with the atmosphere of Steinberg accompanying Kung Wha Chung. Now, what a disc that would have been.

If, like me you have been waiting for Kyung Wha Chung to record the Brahms concerto go ahead and buy this disc and enjoy the contents. I did very much and if you haven’t heard either of the other VPO recordings of Beethoven’s 5th mentioned above you may well think that this coupling is ideal. EMI should rethink what it is doing with its artists. I am afraid that this disc is a little bit of a lost opportunity.

John Phillips

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