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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 26, (1868) [24:14]
Scottish Fantasia for violin and orchestra, Op. 46, (1880) [28:07]
Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe
rec. May 1972, Kingsway Hall, London
Presto CD
DECCA 4485972 [52:30]

I was surprised to find this highly regarded recording from the beginning of the Korean violinist’s illustrious career had been chosen as a re-release by Presto (Decca licence). Decca first issued it in this identical coupling in November 1972 and has been available since then. It can easily be obtained at a more modest price.

As collectors will be aware, the usual coupling for the Bruch is the Mendelssohn. The Bruch Scottish Fantasia was always a slightly unusual companion. That said, it does occur with the redoubtable Jascha Heifetz on RCA in a 1961 issue under another very fine accompanist Sir Malcolm Sargent. Both the Chung and Heifetz I have in large box sets: RCA Living Stereo and The Decca Sound. In the case of the Decca box the record company have filled out the disc with the Mendelssohn which also goes to show the increased capacity of the modern CD. It also, demonstrates one of the negative aspects of such large box sets. Despite their generosity - working out at about £2 per CD - there is always the danger of overlooking some of the contents; that is unless one is dutiful and works ones way systematically playing every disc. I have this recording in both the former box and her Complete Decca Recordings of 19 CDs. Even so, I have only played this recording a few times.

Let’s start with the Concerto which I heard magnificently performed at the Proms in 2010 by James Ehnes. My feelings about it are lukewarm. My preference for the concerto remains an early issue from the mid-1980s from Nigel Kennedy. There he plays it with the English Chamber Orchestra. As well as Mendelssohn they include the delightful Rondo by Schubert. That Kennedy disc was reissued at mid-price (review) and included in a “Platinum Collection” of 3 CDs (review). In Jonathan Woolf’s review of Chung’s live recording for EMI (now Warners) he states that “as with her Decca recording with Rudolf Kempe I find the results lack the ultimate in romantic allure”. That want of optimum tonal breadth limits one’s enthusiasm. Her first entry is – or is balanced – far too loud. I’m afraid that I must go along with Jonathan’s view. The accompaniment by the RPO under that fine conductor, who died far too young, seems larger than we would prefer these days. Certainly it sounds impressive in volume but hardly represents ideal testimony for a mid-nineteenth century violin concerto.

Reissues of the Bruch, including the appearance in The Decca Sound box have coupled it with the Mendelssohn. Here however we have the Scottish Fantasia which is played and recorded far less often. It’s a charming piece and I must say that I found the performance very fine indeed. Chung is an emotive player but here that approach seems entirely appropriate. I’ll embrace a cliché: this recording is one I will be delighted to return to. I should add that the 1972 Kingsway Hall still sounds magnificent.

In the end whilst it will be good for Miss Chung’s admirers to have this CD available, I would imagine they may either have the mid-price reissue, with the Mendelssohn or the excellently valued “Complete Decca Recordings”. In conclusion, the field for this disc at full price is witheringly competitive.

David R Dunsmore

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