These versions of Prokofiev's Violin Concertos, recorded in 1975, were important ones in the late LP era, when there wasn't so much competition: Oistrakh, Milstein, Stern and a few lesser names. I enjoyed Chung's back then. Many more have been recorded since.
Unfortunately, I came back to Chung's immediately after hearing the one André Previn recorded twenty years later, with the same orchestra and Gil Shaham this time (Prokofiev: Violin Concertos 1 & 2; Sonata for Solo Violin). Chung's flaws jump immediately to the ear: right at her entry in the first Concerto (a simple, upward A-D interval), she adds a kind of sob, presumably for "expressive" reasons. And it is incredibly vulgar. Shaham plays it straight, very simply - and that's what Prokofiev needs. In his two Concertos he has these long, simple and radiantly lyrical melodies; the temptation must be to fuss over them, to charge them with meaning and feeling, in order to wring out every drop of lyricism they contain - rather than to play them as they are written: simply, and with a radiant lyricism. And that's the trap into which Chung eagerly falls in the first movement of the first Concerto. Her phrasings are full of these little "expressive" sobs, portamentos and what not. She sounds like a wailing singer. She also invests the more scherzando passages of this first movement (3:05) with a sense of whimsicality and a braggadocio swagger: if you are well-disposed, you may say that it is an original and imaginative approach, and if you are not, that again she is fussing with the phrases (in fact I think both are true). Add to that that her violin tone is husky rather than luminous (which is fine in the second movement Scherzo but somewhat detrimental in these long and radiantly lyrical melodies), and her intonation (partly because of these expressive gimmicks) at times a hair approximate. Fortunately, in the first Concerto, her Scherzo and Finale are beyond reproach, and especially in the latter, the much-desirable simplicity of delivery is there.
The second Concerto starts again with another one of these long, lyrical melodies, played this time by the violin alone, and the temptation must be big to milk it and brood over it, which is what about every fiddler after Heifetz has done (Heifetz Plays Strauss (Violin Sonata op. 18), Sibelius (Violin Concerto), Prokofiev (Violin Concerto 2)). But then start the problems: the transitions to the more dynamic and scherzando passages (the first one is at 1:10 with Chung) become more abrupt, less organic than when the opening motive is taken at a faster tempo (as Heifetz does). Furthermore, the movement sounds as if made up of small sections pasted one after the other, slow, fast, slow, fast. Finally, slowing down too much with the return of the lyrical theme, the violinist has to apply unprescribed accelerations to retain the character of the music when Prokofiev's goes from quarter- or eighth-notes to sixteenth notes, such as (in Chung's reading) at 2:58 or 4:20; in my experience this is a sure sign that there is something the musician didn't get in the movement's architecture and tempo relationship.
Truth is, this has become, after Heifetz, the standard reading of that movement, although, by magnifying the contrasts of tempo, Chung sounds less organic than Oistrakh (Prokofiev: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Violin Sonata No. 2) despite similar timings. But within that approach, she plays with the required blend of lyricism and dash. She also offers a superb slow movement of great emotional intensity, and a fine finale, though without quite the technical fluency of Shaham twenty years later and with a tone more raucous than his - which is not out of situation here. I'm not particularly favorably biased toward André Previn, but he offers here great support, with all the subtle filigree of Prokofiev's orchestration clearly highlighted. The sonics have aged well, though they are not as present as with Shaham.
But the real prize of this CD is Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, recorded by the same team in 1972 (and originally issued with Walton's violin concerto, now on Concerto Violin (2)). Back then and today still it is not a piece that was and is so often recorded, and outstanding versions are rarer still. Other than the qualities of the soloist, it is essential in this work that the orchestra be treaded not as mere accompaniment but as an equal partner, and that the concerto's chamber-like textures, its constant interplay between soloist and various instrumental families in the character of a baroque concerto grosso, its often subtle and often saucy instrumental colors, its facetiously square neo-baroque rhythmic writing peppered with occasional limps, come out vividly and with great instrumental pungency.
Chung and Previn have all these qualities, placing their version among the very best of the dozen or more I have heard. Previn has got a keen sense of Stravinsky's orchestra, a great ear for color, and the necessary touch of irony. Every orchestral detail you wait for is there, vivid and clear. In the opening Toccata, the tuba is marvelously witty and the woodwinds chirp, in the middle section of the Aria II the basses have body, in the final Capriccio the 3 bassoons that open the movement dance as the hippos in Fantasia, and the woodwinds have a jazzy snap. Wonderful dialogues occur between Chung and the various soloists from the orchestra (bassoon, solo violin and cello). And these are only a few of the numerous orchestral felicities that abound under Previn's baton. Chung's tone is ardent and pure as Grumiaux's or Perlman's (Berg, Stravinsky: Violin Concertos), and she never feels the need to coax the lines and exaggerate the raucousness of her tone (a pitfall that Mutter, Witold Lutoslawski: Chain 2 / Partita / Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto - Anne-Sophie Mutter / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Witold Lutoslawski / Philharmonia Orchestra / Paul Sacher doesn't always avoid). In each movement the tempos are balanced, neither particularly fast (though the finale certainly does not linger) nor particularly slow. This is a classic, on a par with the composer's own recording with Isaac Stern from 1960 (Stravinsky: Concertos), Arthur Grumiaux and Ernest Bour's from 1966 (Berg / Stravinsky: Violin Concerto - Grumiaux, Markevitch, Bour), more unexpectedly, David Oistrakh and Bernard Haitink's from 1963 (Mozart Violin Concerto 1 / Stravinsky Violin Concerto - Oistrakh, Haitink).