At the tender age of eleven years, Sarah Chang has already had a formidable career. Early on (age 8), she played a Paganini Concerto with the New York Philharmonic without rehearsal and on one day's notice. She's entertained royalty in London, performed at a Presidential Gala in South Korea, and played with major orchestras throughout the United States. Chang currently studies her instrument at Juilliard with the legendary Dorothy DeLay. This disc is her first commercial recording.
Chang's technique is impressive, but even more significant at this age is her ability to mold a phrase and impose a very personal interpretation on these varied miniatures. Take La Capricieuse. I've always found this Elgar chestnut to be hopelessly cloying and noxiously sweet. But Chang's subtle use of rubato and her utterly unaffected way with the music results in a playful and charming performance that is a joy to hear. She brings an effortless dash to the two Paganini studies, and her Gershwin is notable for a wonderfully sexy employment of portamento. She also gives us witty readings of the two Shostakovich Préludes and a sensitive Liszt Consolation. Only the Prokofieff is less than totally satisfactory - lacking the bite and sarcasm that Heifetz brought to his own transcription.
For this recording, Chang plays on a quarter-sized fiddle that sounds wiry, thin and nasal in the upper register, weak and boxy at the bottom end. But the sound of the instrument is literally of no importance here. This is divine playing that no lover of the art of the violin will want to live without.
Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide