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.