Kyung-Wha Chung was 22 years old when she recorded these two heavyweight concerti in Kingsway Hall with the London Symphony under André Previn. It was Chung's debut recording session, held in the wake of her unexpected success in London as a last-minute replacement for Itzhak Perlman. Although the orchestra was not impressed that it was being fronted by the Leventritt Award winning "amateur" as they dubbed her, audiences felt differently, and this little triumph has made a big difference for every Asian classical virtuoso who has followed in Chung's wake. Therefore, London's Tchaikovsky/Sibelius: Violin Concertos is more than just a key early recording for a major concert artist; it is a historical milestone in the field of Asian virtuosi in the Western classical arena.
Be that as it may, many recorded "milestones" of various kinds bring with them flaws that we either learn to live with or damn with faint praise. Not this record; it is easy to see why the London audience warmed up to her playing so quickly. Chung's Tchaikovsky concerto begins with a long, generous, continuous flowing line that is simply beautiful to behold. While in technical terms Chung's playing is an amazing combination of crispness and fluidity, it's not the technique that one comes away with here; it's the range of emotions, from sadness to love, to resolve and elsewhere, plus a profound sense of determination and will; that's what Chung has to offer in spades. This is precisely what she brings to these over-familiar, too often played concerti, and she makes them sound fresh again, as though one is hearing them for the first time. The Sibelius concerto warms, melts, breaks, and mends your heart, rather than make you groan, "Not again." To his credit, Previn should pat himself on the back for winning a splendidly sympathetic accompaniment from the London Symphony, although this period in Previn's association with London was one that set off quite a few fireworks on its own account; that Chung was able to collaborate with the orchestra at this stage is to the benefit of posterity.
No matter how many recordings you have heard, or currently own, of these two concerti, London's Tchaikovsky/Sibelius: Violin Concertos with Kyung-Wha Chung, Previn, and the LSO is definitely one worth adding to the collection; this "milestone" classical album still feels like a milestone the first time you hear it. This is the original, full-price CD issue of this popular album; later, it was reissued in Decca's The Originals series at mid-price.