BARBER. Concerto for violin and orchestra, Op. 14. BERNSTEIN. Serenade after Plato's "Symposium". Hu Kun (vn); English String Orchestra / William Boughton. Nimbus CD NI5329 (54 minutes: DOD). Hu Kun's playing is full of poignant persuasion. When he finally lends his voice to the great tune at the heart of the Barber (i.e. the oboe led andante) it is with an unmistakable sense of humility. This is no full-blown, tear-drenched aria but something more personal and introspective; the tone is sweet and beguiling-truthful. Boughton's string-based ensemble take evident pleasure in Barber's grateful, singing phrases: a flexible, modest sound. There's a fine oboe solo, too : again, the balance throws a pleasing emphasis on to the string harmonies, the oboe plaint evocatively distanced from our seat mid-stalls. Let me applaud the coupling: it works like a charm. These have to be the finest among American concertos: the Barber is standard repertoire now, but Serenade (after Plato, "in praise of love") is only just beginning to emerge as one of Bernstein's highly select group of masterpieces-about time too, Quite apart from its technical ingenuity, its wily thematic evolutions and transformations, Kun is quick-witted and charming; his easy grace and sweet but never cloying tone are a real boon in the playful little Rosenkavaher-like inflexions which characterize so much of the score (Bernstein was always so Viennese at heart); his quiet contemplative Manner pays rich dividends in the slow movement, "Agathon" (seven of Bernstein's most poised and affecting minutes). How discreetly Kun plays them. I note here how eloquently he yields to the muted viola and cello duo at 2'07", withdrawing his tone to the merest thread of sound, barely grazing the string. The half shades are lovely, so fragile: the sustained A natural in the closing bars sounds almost imagined.
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