This is the third release on DG of Chopin by South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho and his sixth to date for that company). It's a very satisfying coupling of the four Chopin Scherzos with the Second Concerto, for which he is joined by the London Symphony Orchestra under their Principal Guest Conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, thus preserving on disc a collaboration that has worked well in the concert hall over the past several years. This particular disc follows on from Cho's recording of the First Concerto coupled with the Four Ballades. This is a disc of greatest beauty, showcasing a pianist with a maturity way beyond his years.
First Prize winner of the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2013, each of Cho's recordings seems to increase his stature. Hearing him in Basel in Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto sealed the deal for me.
The first Scherzo of Chopin includes huge contrasts, not to mention huge technical challenges from the off. Here's Cho:
None of Chopin's four Scherzi corresponds to the traditional meaning of "joke": they are substantive statements, none more so than the second, in B flat minor where the sheer granseur of the opening finds its balance in Cho's later pianissimi and gloriously pearly touch in the more lyrical sections:
The beauty of Cho's Third Scherzo (C sharp-Minor), the cascading semiquavers set against perfectly placed chords, is remarkable. But then we get to the Fourth - a much more enigmatic work than the first three. Cho seems to feed off this sense of mystery, this elusive streak that links to Chopin's late works in a way that maybe only Sviatoslav Richter did before him:
Although called "Piano Concerto No. 2," the F-Minor was in fact the first to be written (a similar situation occurs with Beethoven's first two concertos, incidentally) This was the piece Cho chose for his Proms debut in 2018 (Noseda again the conductor, this time with the European Community Youth Orchestra). The two musicians work well together, Noseda relishing the orchestral exposition at the start (the orchestra notoriously has little to do once the piano starts playing!). And Cho is simply spectacular in his resonance with Chopin's world:
The slow movement is a dream, a piano song. It is a love song, pure and simple, encrusted with sparkling diamonds: inspired by the epitome of Romantic love - love from afar, for a certan Konstancja Gladkowska - it includes a dramatic cerntral recitative-like section. The Rondo finale is just as imaginative, including a passage where the accompaniment is strings playing "col legno" (with the wood of their bows). Here's that sublime slow movement in Cho's mesmeric reading:
As a supplement to today's post (and as a nod to competitions generally, given th eproximity of this post to the recent Leeds competition), here's the complete performance of Chopin's First Concerto Cho gave in the finals of that Chopin Competition in 2015. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted on this occasion by Jacek Kaspszyk: