This is one of those popular couplings that needs to be special if it’s to retain a central place in the market foreground. Sarah Chang’s name will carry a cachet, as she’s been developing strongly as an interpretative artist, and so too will Masur’s. There’s no one better to conduct the Bruch and few to direct the Brahms than Masur and, as we saw in his accompaniment for Accardo in their famed Bruch cycle, he manages to reveal subtleties of orchestration that other less progressive and assiduous accompanists simply let go, or never found in the first place.
That said, I found the results problematic, and the problem seems to me soloistic. Chang evinces many refined and sensitive things in the Bruch. Her playing is highly personalised and she has clearly brought to the concerto a battery of expressive effects the better to transmit its more lyrical and introspective beauties. Her acute ear for dynamic variance is also evident, though at times she, or the recording engineers, or both, conspire to take things to extremes. And her vibrato usage is varied with considerable authority as well. The downside is that there are moments that sound affected, when there’s – in the first movement – a tremulous engagement that teeters on caricature. Her commitment is never in doubt – I think I can hear her moan slightly as she scales the run at 7:11 in the opening movement. But the vibrato oscillation is problematic especially in the slow movement. Her finale starts promisingly but gets stuck in moments of rather ostentatious phrasing. There is throughout a lack of relaxation and naturalness that means that the performance never quite settles down. There is significant instrumental skill, but that’s not enough.
The Brahms concerto is I think somewhat better, but there are still disruptive changes of colour and phrasing that draw attention to themselves rather than to the music itself. The performance, it’s true, is warmly textured and the oboe and horn principals distinguish themselves. As before the recording is first class, despite some possible tweaking – two locations were used for the concertos. Clearly soloist and conductor have collaborated closely. It’s just that I find the soloistic solutions unsympathetic too often.