Chung/Lupu—Franck and Debussy Sonatas For Violin and Piano

Those browsing the classical vinyl reissues on various audiophile websites may have encountered a few peculiar releases from a Korean label known as Analogphonic. The small label has been pumping out limited reissues of vintage classical recordings since 2012. The records are mastered by various engineers in Europe or North America but are always AAA and pressed at Pallas records in Germany.

I first heard one of their efforts about 5 years ago when they reissued the vaunted 1988 Bernstein recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the New York Philharmonic, but since that time I had yet to revisit the label until now. When I saw the name Kyung-Wha Chung come up under their new releases, I knew I had to hear it. South Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung may not be as well-known as she used to be, but in her heyday she was responsible for many definitive recordings of major violin repertoire, including my personal favorite recordings of both the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius violin concerti (Decca SXL 6493).

This new reissue comes from a Kingsway Hall recording with pianist Radu Lupu, done in 1977 and issued on Decca in 1980. It features two of the premiere French violin sonatas of the repertoire: the “Sonata in A Major” (1886) by Cesar Franck and the “Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor” (1917) by Claude Debussy. Both Franck and Debussy were leaders of French musical composition in their respective time periods. Franck (1822-1890) reveled in his influence, with well-known students such as Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, and Henri Duparc.

The composer and organist was known primarily for his focus on reviving chamber music in the French musical tradition, and his use of the ‘cyclic form’ where melodic material is recalled throughout multiple movements of the same work. He used this effect most notably in his “Symphony in D”, the only major orchestral composition by the composer still widely played today. The form is also found here in the “Violin Sonata” which was written as a wedding present for the violinist Eugene Ysaÿe and has remained in the repertoire of great violinists ever since, becoming popular enough to be transcribed for many instruments such as cello, viola, double bass, flute, oboe, and even a violin concerto with orchestra. “Allegretto ben moderato” the first movement serves as the work’s thematic grounding, gently introducing the melodic material almost like a rhapsodic introduction before the second movement which some consider to be the piece’s “real” first movement.

The “Sonata” by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) on side 2 however, is a stark contrast in both music and personality. Debussy was an iconoclast who often lamented the importance critics and music academia placed on his works. Despite this, he was perhaps more influential in shaping the course of musical composition than almost any other composer operating at the turn of the century, creating not just the musical concept of impressionism (inspired by the earlier painting movement), but changing the formal, melodic, and tonal idioms for generations of composers to come. The 1917 “Violin Sonata” was the composer’s last finished composition and was part of an uncompleted series of six planned sonatas Debussy wanted to accomplish in the short time he had left, dying from cancer and wearied from the emotional toll of WWI. Unlike the serious nature of the Franck composition Debussy’s three-movement sonata is short and filled with sparks of joy and playfulness mixed with bouts of expressive melancholy. The piano and violin interact with an improvisatory-like banter, and quick changes of tempo and mood are found throughout all three movements.

Despite these wildly different works, Chung and Lupu navigate them brilliantly. This is not simply a one-off recording session with two well-known soloists thrown-together in a booth. This recording expresses a deep understanding of this music, and intimate collaboration between two master artists. On the Franck especially the two players give a reading that is refined, sensitive, and intimate. Lupu serves not as an “accompanist”, but as the melodic equal of Chung, and the two adapt well to each other’s playing and personal styles. Chung is clearly a virtuoso, with impeccable intonation, control, and technique, but that all plays second to her thoughtful phrasing, tasteful ebb and flow, and keen understanding of the musical structure. Both players give and take rubato with enough liberty to give the performance an organic quality but are restrained enough to prevent any lugubriousness or distraction from the piece’s natural flow and forward motion. This is romanticism for the thinking man; passionate, but nuanced.

Given that this is a Kingsway Hall recording, we know the sonics are going to be good. Granted they are not up to the glorious standards of those classic tubey 2000 series Deccas from the prior decade, but there is still a wonderful naturalness to the presentation that lets you know it was recorded in a great acoustic space. Chung’s violin is clear, resonant, with plenty of dynamic range. Lupu’s Piano is perhaps not captured as brilliantly as the violin, with transients in the lower register a bit more rounded than I would expect to hear were I in a real recital hall, but this is hardly an uncommon complaint. The piano in the first few bars of the second movement of the Franck has a fury of melodic runs that come across clear and powerful, matched by the intensity of the violin taking over the material. Whatever quibbles I might have about how the piano was mic’d evaporate when I hear these two players interact.

I think the highlight of this entire record is the “Recitativo- Fantasia” (mvmt 3) where both soloists really show their musical bona fides, with plenty of room for free-flowing, cadenza-like phrases and a wide range of dynamics and colors. Chung’s pianissimo is so strikingly beautiful, clear and pure, you almost wish she would remain there for eternity. There are many wonderful and highly regarded recordings of this staple violin recital piece. I own a wonderful rendition recorded just a decade before by Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy also on London/Decca (CS 6628). That recording features star players and good sound too, but with a very different musical interpretation. At times I did appreciate the more strident and expressive moments from Perlman and Ashkenazy, but I did notice it brought more focus to the individual musicians and less to the music they were playing. The real reason to favor this recording of the Franck over others is the flow Chung and Lupu are able to coax out of musical transitions, and even between the movements themselves which flow effortlessly into one another, never breaking the tension they had worked to create.

On the Debussy, which is admittedly less of a warhorse, these players show their versatility and rise to the more playful and wild style without any sense of effort on their part. The runs at the beginning of the Finale are tricky, Chung not only nails them with exacting precision, but with the forward motion and joyful bursting nature that appears in so much of Debussy’s music. The phrasing follows with grip and vigor the erratic lines of the composer, adhering to every dynamic which is often a pitfall players encounter in this music, leading to a performance of mezzo-mush. I have not heard every recording of this piece, but so far, this one is by far my favorite.

I was impressed by this recording’s sound quality, but just to compare, I went out and found an original London pressing (CS 7171). By 1980 Decca had moved their record pressing plant to Holland, and the sound quality of their releases was nowhere near that of their 60s heyday, but I had always wondered how much of that was recording vs mastering vs pressing. Well, I’m happy to report that this Analogphonic reissue is superior in every way to the original Dutch pressing which I found to be too dark, with a much more limited dynamic range. Gone on the original Dutch pressing is the beautiful full resonance of Chung’s violin found on this reissue. A great portion of Radu Lupu’s sonic energy lost on the original has been restored on this reissue.

Was there more tape noise on my reissue? Yes, but that’s going to happen with any mastering from an old tape (unless you filter the sound to death). There is a pressing of this record from the wonderful Japanese King Super Analogue reissue series done throughout the 90s, but spending close to $200 on a record for the sake of comparison is not an undertaking I felt compelled to mount.

For us analog devotees who don’t have an unlimited vinyl budget, you can rest assured that this reissue from Analogphonic will bring excellent AAA sound to what is one of the if not the definitive recordings of this marvelous repertoire. Is it an audiophile marvel like some of the Living Stereos or Deccas from 20 years prior? Perhaps not, but this recording is no sonic slouch either and vastly improves upon the original release thanks to an excellent remastering job by John Webber at Air Studios in London. The real reason to buy this album, however, is the chance to hear two masters pour their heart and soul into a performance of such substance and quality that few, if any performers, living or dead, can match.

Michael Johnson is a Phoenix, AZ based oboist and audio writer. He is currently a member of the Tucson Symphony, and performs regularly with the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. He is a contributing writer at and maintains a vinyl-focused youtube channel by the name of PoetryOnPlastic. You can follow his vinyl journey on Instagram at

(This record currently is available at Elusive Disc.

DaK's picture

I actually doubt that all of Analogphonics releases are AAA. The one you mentioned the "1988 Bernstein recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the New York Philharmonic" is a digital recording so pretty sure that one is not AAA, as long as there wasn't an analog safety copy. Analogphonic is pretty intransparent about their products.

poetryonplastic's picture

I should have said, AAA when analog to begin with.

volvic's picture

The one I’m after is the Karajan Mahler 9th, which is a digital recording. It’s been back ordered for over a year now.

RinziRadio's picture

I have hesitated on buying these analog phonic reissues precisely because there seemed to be so little reliable information on whether they were truly AAA mastered etc. I finally broke down and got the set of the last 3 Tchaikovsky symphonies conducted by Mravinsky. My old DG Symphony Edition box set of all the Tchaikovsky symphonies from the 70s had seen better days (includes a lovely Winter Daydreams from MTT). So I think in this case the analog phonic reissue is pretty great, though I have to say I prefer the Speaker's Corner reissue of the 5th. There are some pretty tasty titles in the analog phonic catalogue, and now, thanks to this honest review, I will not be so hesitant in my explorations. I suspect and hope the reissues of the digital titles like Bernstein's and Karajan's Mahler might turn out to be real gems, benefitting from today's superior mastering etc. technology. For anyone with an SACD player I urge them to explore the releases of SACD-only remasterings being done by Emil Berliner Studios. They are a revelation, revealing that DG master tapes may have been considerably better than we ever thought. The Rafael Kubelik symphony cycle is incredible, likewise the Abbado Stravinsky ballets. I am awaiting the SACDs of Karajan's Second Viennese School box set with high anticipation. This is one of the highlights of Karajan's entire catalog, and was an historical release on all levels (and a massive financial success too, from which Karajan himself profited: he funded the enterprise with his own money because DG baulked at the cost - laughed all the way to the bank). So glad you highlighted Kyung Wha Chung - I treasure her Decca records - marvelous playing, beautiful recordings. Decca magic indeed,

TurnipHead's picture

@RinziRadio, can you provide either a link or some titles in this DG SACD series you mention? There seems to be some older DG SACDs, and I have bought some from Japan recently, but it sounds like these may be different. Is it DG themselves that is issuing these? Thanks!

volvic's picture

Yes, I think they are DG releases from Japan and sold at HMV Japan. Some in my Facebook group swear by these releases and pay a lot of dollars to get them delivered to Europe. I have never taken the plunge, I just recently picked up the Karajan/Turandot SACD by Esoteric and the sound is not an improvement from the 16 bit original SACD, and dare I say the vinyl version is fuller and more satisfying. When SACD is well done with these older recordings, it can really be a revelation, but the disappointment has overshadowed the successful releases. They were never recorded in high resolution and I think maybe that has something to do with it? Not sure, but it is always a roll of the dice and I might just stop purchasing.

RinziRadio's picture

I cannot speak to the older DG SACD issues, but from what I have read they are indeed a mixed bag. But what I have heard of the Berliner remasters has blown me away, and I suspect that they have gone back to the original multi-track recordings. Now I happen to be a big fan of many early DG Large Tulip pressings on vinyl, and even some later DG vinyl can sound terrific (eg. Karajan's Prokofiev 5th and Mahler 6th), but it is a bit of a crapshoot. Most of these Berliner remasterings are of analog and early digital, and I suspect they have been able to remove a lot of processing that was put onto the recordings somewhere in the mix-down process. The sound is full, beefy with lots of bass, and none of that tell-tale DG glassiness on top. I urge you to investigate further.

RinziRadio's picture

These are more recently remastered SACDs done by Emil Berliner studios. The OBI strip has a blue square on the front stating as such. I have seen them for sale at Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc, then various sellers on eBay and even on amazon. Now the tricky part is that in some artwork on these sites they do not show the OBI strip, so you cannot see the tell-tale blue box, and the blurb doesn't always state these are Emil Berliner remasters. In these cases a good resource is the Emil Berliner site itself, showing what remasters they have issued. You can then cross-check these with what you are seeing advertised. Most of these releases are from within the last 6 years or so, and yes, there are earlier SACD remasterings done by DG, and of course there are the Esoteric releases (which I have so far found to be good), but are very expensive. I have just bought the Karajan Second Viennese School set, and can't wait to listen. Berliner Studios have remastered a lot of Karajan (symphonies by Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven '70s cycle), the Kubelik Beethoven cycle, Karl Bohm Beethoven cycle - all details on the Berliner Studios site. As I stated above, I think these remasterings lift the veil on the DG sound.

volvic's picture

Indeed RinziRadio, you are correct, and thanks for pointing out the blue label on the OBI strip; I never noticed it. Yes, they can be outstanding as I have one or two, but these days, with space constraints, I am selective of what I purchase. Some 50s and 60s recordings are already perfect on vinyl. Still, others, particularly Karajan’s recordings, where he would do a lot of the mixing and editing himself, can be dodgy in quality and could benefit from a fresh approach. I think primarily of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Rostropovich, which sounds cloudy and unbalanced on record and CD. I will take the plunge and get the Second Viennese school SACD as people in my FB Karajan page rave about it, and finding a good used version on vinyl is tough or too expensive to ship from Europe. Most of the others I already have on vinyl, and my unwritten rule is if they sound great on vinyl, the way they were meant to be heard, I don’t purchase the SACD, only where the performance is excellent but the sonics fall short.

RinziRadio's picture

.... on your approach re. SACD vs. Vinyl, and your comments regarding Karajan's "tinkering". Have you read Richard Osborne's bio of Karajan? It is superb, and one of the most illuminating examinations of what a conductor actually does that I have read. Also, if you don't already know them, I urge you to get hold of the handful of live Karajan performances put out by Testament. They are extraordinary, far more volatile than his studio recordings, and include an incandescent Verklarte Nacht.BTW I bought my copy of the Second Viennese School box from Import CDs, and the price was at least $15 less than other sites. Would love to join your FB Karajan page - what is the title/link etc.?

volvic's picture

RinziRadio, it is such a good read that it deserves a re-read and the more I think of it and listen to many other conductors the more I realize how much he accomplished and I have to give him the mantle of the greatest conductor to have ever lived. I might not have agreed with all of his interpretations, but the consistency was hard to beat. I have but one of his Testament recordings I think from his trip to the USA in 1955 and it is very good. Thanks for the Import CDs recommendation, ordered. The Karajan page is Herbert von Karajan Appreciation Society, over 11k members and it is fun and I have met many great people there. Will see you there.

RinziRadio's picture

volvic - I sat down to sample the Second Viennese School set and ended up listening to the whole thing. Astonishing! These Emil Berliner SACD remasters really rewrite the received wisdom on DG sound quality. Have sent in my request to the Karajan FB group. Many thanks for the introduction.

volvic's picture

Welcome to the FB group, you'll find me with an avatar of Karajan listening to a record played on a Garrard 301. See you on the other side.

RinziRadio's picture

Of course I meant the Kubelik BEETHOVEN symphony cycle.

Jenn's picture

Both were favorites of Mehta during his L.A. days. I heard Lupu play all five Beethoven concerti.

Elubow's picture

I have the Super Analog Franck Sonata version reissued by Cisco in the 90s. These were mastered in Japan and pressed by RTI. Many of these are wonderful, slightly darker than earlier releases, but great low end. The Frank Sonata was beautifully mastered and one of my favorites on this label. I would have given it a 10 for sound.

Intermediate Listener's picture

Practically any recording by Chung is a top choice for whatever she’s playing.

RinziRadio's picture

--thanks to your excellent review, I'm guessing. Will seek elsewhere. Michael, so glad you are contributing classical reviews to this site. I might not have known about this release otherwise (and apologies for hijacking the comments section into a discussion of SACD remasters.....)

volvic's picture

But I grabbed my copy from Acoustic Sounds, as always and a Szerying box set of the Bach Partitas. I do hope they release the Chung/Kondrashin Beethoven record too. But, if you want it as bad as I did, I suggest you go to Acoustic Sounds. Happy Listening!!!

Yes, thanks for a great review! Want to see more of this.