Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20/Sonatas K281 & 382—Seong-Jin Cho, piano/DG

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Seong-Jin Cho is the young Korean phenom who won the XVII International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, joining such winning luminaries as Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini and Krystian Zimerman. A healthy ratio of winners of this particular competition go on to renown and legendary status.

Even though the 2015 competition was filled with very gifted pianists, Cho was the jury and audience favourite. He’s a very refined musician with a wonderful aesthetic and great technique. A worthy winner.

Cho has recorded several very well-received discs for DG, all reviewed in Audiophilia. His Chopin and Debussy CDs are splendid, both worthy of inclusion in our Recordings of the Year. So, how does he compare with other Chopin laureates?

Cho continues his very elegant and cultured approach with these Mozart gems. The Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 was composed in 1785 when the composer was approaching 30 years old. D minor is a wonderful, dark and ominous key (Bruckner and Beethoven 9s)—fans of Spinal Tap will know the best description of the key! With lots of syncopated tension, Mozart produces one of his most deeply felt works. There are many places for the piano to shine and sparkle—Mozart was soloist at the premiere. Cho delivers the filigree lines with perfect tempo and rhythm.

The famous slow movement is as wistful as the finest on record (Argerich and Murray Perahia) with chords balanced beautifully. The weight during cadences is perfect. There’s an old soul moving those fingers.

Accompanying is the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. This is DG’s Mozart team of choice. Nézet-Séguin is recording all the Mozart operas for DG with the orchestra. In the Concerto, orchestra and conductor are on point as accompanists then project Mozart’s ideas forward in rhythmic style during the orchestral tuttis. Nézet-Séguin is a very sensitive partner.

The recording matches the performances—the piano rings true; every 16th note is heard clearly with no overhang. The orchestra and soloist are recorded in a lovely acoustic. Nothing seems to be highlighted. Get the volume right, and balance between solo, orchestra and audience is 10th row stalls.

Filling out the 69 minute CD are two Sonatas, K.281 and K332 and the Fantasia in D minor, K. 397.

All three receive stunning performances and are filled with profoundly beautiful (and difficult) music, putting to rest American iconoclastic composer Charles Ives’ silly commentary describing the sonatas as ‘lady finger music’. Much more apt is the great Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel‘s description—’The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children, and too difficult for artists.’

In his flourishing career, 24 year old Seong-Jin Cho is already a great artist. For sure, not the finished product, thank goodness, yet he’s one of those rare musicians for whom Mozart seems to hold no fears. Very highly recommended.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
Piano Sonata No.3 in B-flat major, K.281
Piano Sonata No.12 in F major, K.332

Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Seong-Jin Cho, piano

Int. Release 16 Nov. 2018

1 CD / Download

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