Another Disappointing New Release by Seong-Jin Cho

Seong-Jin Cho

Cho is the winner of last years Warsaw Chopin competition, that in the past used to launch piano legends, e.g. Krystian Zimerman, or Martha Argerich.

However, in my previous review of his debut recording, I already was quite surprised by the choice of last years jury.

And unfortunately, his latest release, a full Chopin album with the piano concerto no. 1 and the ballades, confirms my disappointment.

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Ballades – Seong-Jin Cho (Deutsche Grammophon 2016)

Let’s start with the good part. Piano concerto no. 1 is an overall convincing performance. He uses a lot of rubato, which I really like in Chopin, the brilliant parts are brilliant as expected, but the slower parts also get a well reflected treatment.

We are clearly not yet beating Zimerman’s both recordings on Deutsche Grammophon, but at least this is interesting and worth listening to.

The LSO under Gianandrea Noseda are a quite powerful partner. Let’s face it, the Chopin piano concertos aren’t the most satisfying material for orchestras, they often are nothing more than “background” for the soloist. But their playing here cannot be faulted.

Chopin: PIano Concerto No. 1 / Ballades Seong-Jin Cho, London Symphony Orchestra, Giandandrea Noseda Deutsche Grammophon 2016 24/96

The Ballades

The Chopin ballades are just amazingly beautiful. My favorite version is again, Zimerman, as already featured in my Top 10 Classical Pianists posts. Another favorite of mine, Murray Perahia, is also exceptional.

Getting to Cho, something is just wrong. The slow parts are often just plain boring, I can’t even fully put my finger on it.

When it gets fast, like after 2 min into Ballade No. 2 he becomes impressive, but more technically than musically, unfortunately.

It is very clear that Cho has amazing technical reserves that are barely even challenged here in these works. Maybe he would be perfect for Liszt, but here in the simple ballades, what you really need are nuances, and these are missing to my simple ear.

It pains my heart writing this, but I don’t think Cho is up there with his peers from previous competitions.

Let me know what you think, do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m completely nuts? Please share your comments.

My rating: 3 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (HDTracks)

UPDATE January 5, 2016: By now, some other reviewers have had more positive opinions than me about this album, I’d say the general consensus is around 4 stars. Doesn’t change my personal rating but I wanted to flag this to ensure you get a balanced view.

 

Author: Musicophile

I'm not a professional musician, I don't work in the music industry, I'm just what the name says, somebody who loves music. I've been in love with music for all of my life, took piano lessons for nearly 10 years, and played in several amateur Jazz groups. I go to concerts, both classical and Jazz, quite regularly. And I collect music previously on vinyl and CDs, now on my computer, and am slightly OCD on my music collection. You can reach me at Musicophile1(AT)gmail.com

6 thoughts on “Another Disappointing New Release by Seong-Jin Cho”

  1. I think I sort of understand what you mean. I listened to his recording of the competition and it wasn’t something I expected. But like many young pianists he also struggles to find his own way of interpretation of Chopin. I like Zimerman’s interpretations of Chopin’s music but I don’t think I can expect something like that from Cho’s playing. He is very young and talented. So I will watch how he progresses in future. I saw the clip on YouTube and I found it interesting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP2Hk9Kfs7w

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you. It is always tough to judge a young artist at the beginning of his career (and who am I, simple amateur, to “judge” in the first place?).

      That said, there are other young artist out there that have touched me much more, for example Benjamin Grosvenor, Igor Levit, or for example another winner of the Chopin competition, Rafal Blechacz.

      But as you say, let’s see how his career develops. He certainly has the potential to go much further.

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  2. What distinguishes the game of the young Seong-Jin Cho is that it refuses to be overwhelmed by floods of romanticism and gives us a rather “objective” version of these works, which does not mean that they are Devoid of delicacy or sensibility. But in my humble opinion, it is necessary to leave a certain freedom of listening to the listener: Chopin has so much to tell us according to our sensitivity, our states of mind, that it is better to leave us a margin In the personal interpretation of these masterpieces rather than “over-interpret” them and lock ourselves in the vision of the interpreter. Contrary to what one might think, virtuosos such as Horowitz, Rubinstein, Samson François, did not “over-interpret” these works. They left us this margin of freedom essential to our inner re-creation of these musics.

    This is particularly noticeable in the 1st and 4th ballads, it seems to me.

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    1. Peter, thanks for your sharing your very insightful thinking here, and I can absolutely follow your reasoning.

      The problem for me is that Chopin is music that needs to touch me emotionally, and Cho’s interpretation simply doesn’t do this for me.

      And I must admit that I struggle a bit with the concept of “objectiveness” in Chopin. Chopin’s playing accordingly to all reports was a lot about rubato, i.e your individual treatment of time. Even in François’ interpretation I’m aware of there is tons of rubato. This decision where to slow down and where to accelerate is also one of the things that Rubinstein did really well. I’m not a huge fan of Horowitz for Chopin by the way.

      In a nurshell, I probably think an “objective” approach of Chopin exists.

      That said, I’ve read numerous reviews of Cho’s new recording, and the majority really appreciates Cho’s approach of Chopin. Only a few like me remain unconvinced of this album.

      Therefore in the end music reviews, like music interpretation, remain a very personal affair.

      I’ve shared my view here, but I always encourage my readers to check out other views here as well, and most importantly, make up their own mind!

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  3. Unfortunately I have to agree with you. When I heard the first Chopin piano concerto, I really suspected my hearing – this is after all the winner’s performance! I listened to it again hoping that I was at fault, but I was so… bored! Beautiful and noble sound, but no personality!

    Liked by 1 person

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