The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: Chung returns with a new recording of the solo violin's 'old testament'
Musicians: Kyung Wha Chung (violin)
Composer: Bach
Catalogue number: WARNER CLASSICS 9029 59441-6 (2 CDs)

There are few sterner tests for a recording comeback than a complete set of solo Bach. Kyung Wha Chung’s readings, closely captured, are substantially accurate and display deeper musical thought and more convincing architectural sensibility than her Galamian-influenced 1974–5 Decca recordings of the Second Partita and Third Sonata. Her articulation is more varied and incisive, her phrasing more finely etched, and she preserves linear continuity with quicksilver chord playing while communicating internal vocal interplay. Her balance of melody against pulsating accompaniment in the opening movements of Sonatas nos.2 and 3; her arpeggiando and bariolage playing in her powerfully driven Ciaccona; her shaping of the pedal point before the al riverso section of the Third Sonata’s Fuga; her relaxed accounts of the Third Partita’s Gavotte and Gigue – all are expertly judged.

However, Chung’s approach results in some unnecessarily aggressive attack and tautness of sound, often when one desires more breadth, subtlety and variety of tone colour. Musically perplexing, too, are the stop-start nature of the Sarabande’s Double in Partita no.1; the long, drawn-out climax of Sonata no.2’s Fuga; her emphases in the Allemanda of Partita no.2; and her pause on the trilled dominant before the end of the Second Partita’s Corrente. Further, much of her interpretation is doggedly literal vis-Á -vis rhythm (e.g. the Adagio of Sonata no.1) and begs greater rhetorical freedom. Repeats are largely unvaried and her dynamic range is limited, resulting in a feeling of relentlessness that pervades, for example, the Doubles of Partita no.1.

Robin Stowell