This was Kyung-Wha Chung's first recording, made when she was 22, just after her sensational London debut in the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the same orchestra and conductor. It is splendid. Only a young, radiantly talented player could make these two tired warhorses sound so fresh and vital; only a consummately masterful one could sail through their daunting technical difficulties with such easy virtuosity and perfection. Her tone is flawlessly beautiful, varied in color and inflection; she puts her technical resources entirely at the service of the music, giving every note meaning and honestly felt expression without exaggeration or sentimentality. The Tchaikovsky has charm, humor, sparkle; the slow movement is dreamy, wistful, and unmuted but subdued and inward. The Sibelius is dark and bleak but full-blooded, passionate, and intense. The orchestra sounds and plays better in the Sibelius.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, completed about the same time as the Eroica Symphony, has suddenly become popular. One reason for its previous lack of popularity was the fact that three soloists cost three times as much as one normally expensive pianist, violinist or cellist. Another reason is that the work seeks to be a popular success, hence the Rondo alla Polacca with which it concludes. The piano part was intended for Beethoven’s patron and pupil, the Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg, and hence is less technically demanding than the composer’s usual pianistic writing, destined for himself. The standard CD (previously LP) of the work was a spectacular performance and recording made by EMI many years ago with David Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Richter with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. It was opulently played with the BPO’s luscious sound, but has little to do with what Beethoven would have heard in 1804. Another choice was the version of Stern, Rose and Serkin (Sony), less lush and not so high-powered as Karajan’s.