Thomas Beecham once told an orchestra, "As long as we start and finish together, no one will notice what happens in between." This recording (which apparently dates back to 1984) begins in majestic fashion and concludes with sparkling wit. The remainder, however, leaves a great deal to be desired. In the String Serenade, Chung avoids heavy accents and selects moderate tempos. This gentle approach works exceptionally well for I, the trio of II, and the outer portions of IV. While these moments are beautiful indeed, the score's faster sections invariably come across as rushed, joyless, and forced.
The Wind Serenade boasts some elegant playing from the Northern Sinfonia, especially at the opening of II, but the effect is sabotaged by a breathless trio which finds the ensemble clearly uncomfortable with the conductor's frenetic pace. On the other hand, Chung does manage to capture the high-spirits of IV most effectively. Even the reprise of the opening theme from I is lighter and less pompous here than in its initial appearance. The recorded sound is finely detailed in both works, but slightly over-reverberant in the String Serenade.
Alas, this is a frustrating and inconsistent release which I cannot recommend in the face of sublime competition from Edo de Waart and Netherlands Wind Ensemble or Neville Marriner's Academy. Still, if you already have satisfactory versions of these two charmers, you might want to consider this disc for its occasional flashes of brilliance.
Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide