by Rachel Beaumont

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Not good enough: Kyung Wha Chung plays Bach at the Barbican

The Bach violin sonatas and partitas
Kyung Wha Chung
Barbican Hall
10 May 2017
Circle J66, moved to J45, £15
Barbican page

Kyung Wha Chung is clearly a performer who inspires a lot of love in her audience. Unfortunately on the basis of this concert that love has one or two blind spots. I left with the same feeling of disconnection from my fellow audience members as I experienced at yesterday's Lise Davidsen concert (although for very different reasons).

Am I being too harsh? To perform all of the Bach solo violin works in one concert with no music in the vast Barbican space is, of course, quite an undertaking. Chung, small and frail-looking, who clearly struggled up the stairs on her way to the stage (does the Barbican not have a stair-free route?), wielded at moments the kind of power you would hope for, sound pouring from her violin, enchanting music crafted out of nothing.

But Chung was more vulnerable than she was strong, and unable to protect Bach's music from the surrounding nothingness. At three points she lost her way through the music and had to start again. I find this difficult to forgive. Why not take on some music? In a way, I suppose, it was valuable to hear how this music could break apart, how one wrong turning destroys it. But on the other hand I'm quite well enough aware of that from my own experiences of trying to play Bach; I needn't pay £15 for the privilege.

By the final two pieces (Sonata and Partita nos.3) Chung had largely found her feet, producing a good tone with mostly accurate intonation. Before that things were not so merry, and sadly that includes some extraordinary music. Intonation was poor by professional standards and the double-stopping chewed and inaccurate. Much of this playing was objectively below expected standards. Add to this my personal preference for less vibrato and Baroque bowing and all in all I didn't enjoy myself.

Chung received a standing ovation. For those who stood, presumably her performance was commensurate with one of Chung's history and stature. Arriving cold, I couldn't feel the same.

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