After a substantial hiatus from the recording studio, Korean virtuoso Kyung Wha Chung returns with a soulful program of Gallic music.

Beau Soir = FAURE: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 13; Berceuse, Op. 16; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; Panis angelicus (arr. Kenner); DEBUSSY (arr. Hartmann) : La file aux cheveux de lin; Beau soir – Kyung Wha Chung, violin/ Kevin Kenner, piano – Warner Classics 0190295708085, 64:13 (3/23/18) [warnerclassics.com] ****: 

Recorded 31 October and 7 November 2017, this recital from the UK bears a dedication to Kyung Wha Chung’s concert manager of forty years, Yukio Izumi, whom she remembers for “his passionate and constant dedication to music.”  Chung opens with a tastefully passionate account of Faure’s 1878 Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, the work that announced—said Camille Saint-Saens—Faure’s having become a master. The piece bears the imprimatur of the Faure style: alternately austere and measured, it offers refined temperament, heightened melodic ardor, and the unmistakable harmonic syntax that defines his especial sonic elegance. The ardent first movement Allegro molto proceeds in a modified sonata-form, rife with broken octaves and sudden crescendos in both parts. Besides asking the piano to intone the first melody solo, Faure subjects the pianist to exert considerable prowess in his own right, likely meant for the composer’s own developed technique.  The Andante proceeds in compound meter, instilling in us a sense of lyrico-dramatic expectation. Often compared to a heartbeat, the pulse of the music breathes an intimacy that can become quite inflamed. Kenner’s liquid tones complement the beguiling figurations from Chung’s instrument. A playful, skittish Scherzo ensues, witty in (pizzicato and staccato) colloquy for both parts, interrupted by an enigmatic middle section. The final movement Allegro quasi presto assumes a bold, assertive tone, which some may interpret as passionate and triumphant. Chung makes it eminently optimistic, rising in a series of chromatic steps as Kenner injects a color spectrum that combines in luxurious harmony with Chung’s violin. The progression to the coda enjoys a direct and focused luster, eminently logical and resolute, at once.

The 1886 Violin Sonata in A Major of Cesar Franck remains one of the great staples of the Belgian-French tradition, and it has received many gear realizations, of which we now add another.  Having adopted Liszt’s cyclical form for his own self-expression, Franck creates a tightly-knit, four movement composition that succeeds in its unity-in-variety. Chung’s eminently vocal approach finds equal ardor in Kenner’ piano part, and their singing combination often reminds me of my early experience of this work from Heifetz and Rubinstein.  The Allegro ben moderato movement seems to serve as a preparation for the tumultuous Allegro, which Kenner introduces in bravura terms. Kenner consistently lays the groundwork for the explosive gestures from Chung, until she takes the leading melody, exacted with anguished sweetness. The liquid figures give way to a decidedly dramatic arioso, declamatory and soaring. Krenner’s part has all of the earmarks of a solo fantasia, certainly congruent with the improvisatory Recitativo-Fantasia movement that constitutes the mid-section of this monument to salon music, originally intended as a wedding gift to violinist Eugene Ysaye.  The last pages of the second movement bristle with galvanized excitement. As per expectation, the passionate outpouring of solo riffs in the third movement both absorb the Bach influence and promise us what Chung’s announced set for Warner Classics of Bach Partitas and Sonatas will impart musically and emotionally. Chung leans into the melodic tissue of the third movement with studied intensity, matched in kind by Kenner’s resonant keyboard. I first fell victim to the contrapuntal beauties of the Franck last, rondo movement, courtesy of Oistrakh and Yampolsky.  Chung and Kenner prove no less suave, their canons sweet and alluring at every repetition, then soaring majestically into a refined aether.

After her long hiatus from the recording studio—partly due to a hand injury—Chung here concludes her essentially Gallic program with several miniatures, among them the old Heifetz favorite: the Hartmann transcription of the Prelude No. 8 from Book I, “the girl with the flaxen hair,” which I always associate with Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jenny. As simple as plainchant, the lovely melody with its spare piano part muses, sings, and then yearns in double stops and high tessitura. The eponymous Beau Soir takes its cue from a Paul Bourget poem,  a mediation on summer transience and the imminence of death, but refusing to cede its sense of voluptuous life. The 1880 Berceuse of Faure casts a breezy delight that transcends its genre as a “cradle song.” Franck’s setting of Thomas Aquinas’ “Angelic bread” (1872) first appeared to me via Leopold Stokowski’s transcription for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then I heard Richard Crooks sing it. On a recent radio tribute to Willem van Otterloo, I aired his recording of the other-worldly melody, originally set for tenor, organ, harp, cello, and double bass. Chung and Kenner lend the piece a burnished sincerity that will likely make some radio station’s “recording of the week” list.

—Gary Lemco