I was favorably impressed by Chang's recent recording of the Paganini Concerto - her technical authority and unadorned style made for fresh listening. The present program of French virtuoso concertos, particularly the Vieuxtemps, plays to those strengths. The Lalo, with its brace of Spanish dances demanding a sophisticated ear, is another matter.
Chang's Vieuxtemps is strikingly good. She handles the high drama (mostly rhetoric) of the first two movements with ease. (The alternative approach, a four-handkerchief peroration of the extended leaps and scales, used to be a favorite party joke of Heifetz's.) When Chang arrives at the adagio, coincidentally the appearance of the only great tune in the concerto, her playing ignites. The soaring high note that announces the finishing dash is a masterpiece: brilliantly sharp, graded dynamically from mezzo forte to fortissimo, and brushed at the end with a bow of steel. Would you buy a recording on the basis of one note?
Unlike the Vieuxtemps, the Lalo is a live recording, or rather a "best-of" pastiche of four concerts. I suppose the choice of takes considers the violinist's best playing rather than the orchestra's as there are some areas where I'm certain the Concertgebouw brass would like to have a second crack. Chang is perfect, as usual. My only subtractive comments concern her phrasing: it lacks rhythmic zest, particularly in the Intermezzo where she holds over phrase endings that should end with a wink rather than a nod. The flirtation of the habanera as projected in my favorite version by Aaron Rosand (Vox) is irresistible (pity the recording is so execrable). On the whole, though, Chang and Dutoit are an extremely dynamic combination, in the Perlman/Barenboim mold (vintage 1978). The Vieuxtemps would not be shamed by comparisons with the recordings of Heifetz and Grumiaux either. High praise indeed.
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan