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.
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
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.