The concerto seems to be taking shape before your very ears - rugged, edge-of-the-seat...
John Armstrong 2002-11-20
This is a cd of standard repertoire that's screaming for your attention, even at full price; EMI has managed to come up with so many selling points you might feel as though you're being mugged! It's Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic; Beethoven's Fifth was recorded live, and has all that extra electricity about it. It's Kyung-Wha Chung's first recording of the Brahms Concerto. It's an unusual coupling, and it feels more like eavesdropping on a concert than sitting down with a carefully packaged product for the armchair enthusiast...and any one of the above might be enough to persuade you to part with your money.
But what about the performances? The critics seem to have split down the middle: some think you should buy this for Rattle's sizzling Beethoven, regarding Chung's Brahms as a weighty filler. The others reckon it's the Brahms that you need in your collection, and the Beethoven's a bonus - a firework of a performance, burning brightly, but only the once: not for repeated listening.
Me? I like it all - the Beethoven because Rattle's managed to make it feel fresh again, bringing a dangerous edge to one of the most luxurious classical orchestras in the world, in a work that should never sound routine but sadly these days often does.
But it's the Brahms I've already returned to, because Chung somehow makes you feel as though there's still a lot to learn about it. The concerto seems to be taking shape as a performance before your very ears - rugged, sometimes edge-of-the-seat fiddle playing, with all the flair and passion that Chung brings to everything she records. There's nothing safe about it, this feels as though it could be a live performance as well. Some people won't like the balance: Chung's not spot-lit at all, but that only emphasises the way in which she works with the orchestra, and the way they and Rattle respond - it's a genuine concert hall balance, not an artificial creation for the living room.
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3