Seong-Jin Cho gives an interpretation of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Ballades

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Ballades
PERFORMER: Seong-Jin Cho (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 5941

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Eighteen months since winning the 2015 Chopin Competition, Seong-Jin Cho has already made his second album for Deutsche Grammophon. Actually this is his first studio album, as the previous recording – part of the winner’s ‘package’ – was taken from live performances during the competition. The Seoul-born pianist may not have been the first name on everyone’s lips during the tense wait for the final results, yet few were surprised when the announcement was made and he became South Korea’s first gold medallist in the competition’s history. As this new release confirms, his playing is unfailingly cultivated and his sound beautifully focused and poised.

It is good to be able to revisit his Concerto in E minor, the work that sealed his success in Warsaw, even if it now comes without the spontaneity of that momentous night. The London Symphony Orchestra sounds perhaps more well-upholstered than is ideal in this music, and Gianandrea Noseda is a reliable rather than inspiring accompanist. But right from the fortissimo octaves of the piano’s entry, Cho commands the work, and he leads the dance in the finale.

Though composed over about a decade, Chopin’s four Ballades require the same mix of lyrical restraint and virtuosity, and if Cho is perhaps inclined to overindulgence in the first, G minor piece, he strikes a more patrician tone in the rest.

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John Allison