Piano Concerto No. 20; Piano Sonatas Nos 3 & 12; Fantasia in D minor
Seong-Jin Cho (piano); Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
DG 483 5522 63:46 mins
Seong-Jin Cho jumped to fame when he won the International Chopin Competition in 2015, but with this latest recording he proves he’s no slouch when it comes to Mozart either. This is the composer, writes the South Korean pianist in the booklet notes, who always brings him joy – and there’s a sense of that uncomplicated, direct relationship with the music in his playing. Not that it’s easy to perform, and Cho is always elegant, even and measured, whether in Piano Concerto No. 20 or the two solo piano sonatas.
In some hands, the D minor Concerto is a work of rustling urgency and shadows; Cho finds instead a vigorous energy for the Allegro, set up in the opening tutti by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Throughout, orchestra and soloist match each other’s sound and colour, though they aren’t always the chattiest of friends. Still, the Romance is beautifully turned, while both soloist and orchestra are wonderfully nimble in the finale. Here Cho again turns away from the darker colours, zipping towards an end that’s triumphantly buoyant. If another concerto might have been more satisfying than the sonatas that complete the disc, Cho’s refinement is always impressive. Yet for the all his unfailing taste, his playing never quite leaps out and sticks in the memory. Wasn’t it the pianist Artur Schnabel who observed that ‘Mozart piano sonatas are too simple for children, and too difficult for adults’? Perhaps a little more playfulness, a little more drama would have lifted these performances.