Piano Concerto No. 2; Scherzos
Seong-Jin Cho (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
DG 486 0435 76:56 mins
If we are to judge by the number of recordings currently available, Chopin’s Scherzos seem to have joined his Rondos in not quite making the top grade – which is curious, given their quality and especially their masterly combination of virtuosity and lyricism. Pianist Seong-Jin Cho is equal to their every virtuosic demand, and my reservations rather concern his responses to the lyricism in the works’ varying structures.
In the First Scherzo, Chopin specifies ritenutos in the outer sections for one particular passage each time it recurs. For me, introducing them elsewhere blunts what is presumably the composer’s intention, which is surely to answer wildness with reflection. In the Third Scherzo the ‘chorale’ passage in D flat, then in E, surely demands the same regular rhythm as its leggierissimoresponse; the contrast of texture is quite enough, and is only confused by an added contrast of rhythm. My only other quibble is with the ritenuto on the last two chords of the First Scherzo. In the other three, the pianist drives on implacably to the end – why not here? He is at his best though in this piece’s central lullaby, which is exquisite.
With the F minor Piano Concerto Seong-Jin Cho is, of course, against stiff competition. I do wonder whether Chopin would have been happy with today’s accepted dichotomy between strictly regular orchestral passages and rubato-inflected ones wherever the soloist is playing (albeit more restrained when combining with the orchestra). Even if the pianist here cannot match Maria João Pires’s magical fioritura in the Larghetto (also on Deutsche Grammophon), this is still a respectable rendering overall.