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CD Review

Sarah Chang

Plays Violin Concertos

Sarah Chang, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
EMI Classics 5 56418 2 DDD 59:11 Live Recording
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This is an unfortunate situation. I received this disc and wanted to like it. I have long felt that Maestro Jansons is one of the finer conductors around today. I've heard a lot of good about Miss Chang, though this is the first disc of hers I've heard. It is not to be, however, because I can think of no reason to recommend this disc to you. It isn't bad, there are just so many better ones.

Listen, if you can, to just two alternatives in the Sibelius. Kyung-Wha Chung, who was not much older when she made her recording, with André Previn and the London Symphony on Decca "The Classic Sound" [425 080] plays the piece in almost exactly the same timings. On the other hand, Chung and Previn are better recorded and capture the Sibelius Sound World better. If you want the absolute last drop of emotion wrenched from the music, listen to Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the same London Symphony as Previn. (Okay, so it ain't actually "the same"…quibble, quibble, quibble) Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg has me sitting on the edge of my listening chair as she takes the emotion, screws it taut and then releases it with all the force of an arrow from a bow. Be warned that her first movement is almost two minutes longer than either of the others discussed here. On the other hand, you can feel, in less than two minutes, how much more there is in the music as heard by Salerno-Sonnenberg than by Chang. The same is true of Chung. If you can find the EMI release [7 54855] get it!!

I see that for some reason the only recordings I have of the Sibelius are with female soloists. I do have the historic Heifetz/Beecham, but none other. I find Heifetz distant and cold, which are not bad attributes in this piece, and ultimately unmoving. Either Chung or Salerno-Sonnenberg provide more of a pulse to the music than Heifetz…or Chang.

As for the Mendelssohn, more of the same I fear. The ONLY recording I have ever responded to is Maxim Vengerov's on Teldec [4509-90875] with Kurt Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Somehow Vengerev finds more music in this piece than anyone else I have heard. Chang's performance is as good as any other I have heard, but….that ain't saying much. I confess I do not appreciate Mendelssohn nearly as much as Sibelius. In fact, Mendelssohn is one of those composers more highly regarded by others than I. Still, its Vengerov by a mile.

So, what if you want this particular combination? I don't think you will be disappointed until you hear the others playing the same music. On the other hand that involves purchasing two discs instead of one. The excellent is the enemy of the good.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II