Only a few years removed from a quarter-size fiddle, Sarah Chang treads the boards with the big stars. She's still too young to make a Promethean artistic appearance, but I'm impressed with her work in these litmus pieces.
The Paganini is brilliantly assured. Her tone is big and vibrant; she nearly overpowers the cantilena flourishes of the allegro maestoso. While her basic phrasing doesn't stray much from the conductor's beat, there's an easy elegance in her subtle portamentos and left-hand shifts. Her dynamic contrasts are fresh, almost classical touches. I especially liked her playing (on the G-string) of the minor sub-theme of I. The standard Sauret cadenza closes the movement in high spirits, if not with breathless panache.
Paganini's adagios have never been a high point - their simplistic melodies provide merely an in-take of breath before the next outburst. Chang arrives at the rondo fully rested, but her playing is less fervid than before. Every note is crisp, perfectly intoned, and on the beat.
The recording of the Saint-Saëns couplet took place about half a year later. It's even better than the Paganini. Chang's technique seems to have gained more expression and I like the way she doesn't drool over the melodrama of the "Introduction." The Philadelphia Orchestra provides first-class support throughout. Bass drum and cymbals are visceral and vivid (respectively) in the Paganini. They also use the longer, more entertaining tutti to open the concerto.
Recommended for the Saint-Saëns. The Paganini is available in superior versions by a few greats, including the classic Rabin, Perlman, and Accardo.
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan