For his sixth and latest Deutsche Grammophon album, pianist Seong-Jin Cho returns to the music of Frédéric Chopin with Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 · Scherzi. The album is set for international release on 27 August 2021 and features these best-loved works in interpretations characterised by thoughtful poetry and youthful ardour. For the concerto, Seong-Jin Cho teams up with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, a conductor with whom he has enjoyed a productive and stimulating collaboration over the past five years. The digital version of the album will include three bonus solo tracks: the “Revolutionary” Étude, Op. 10 no. 12, Impromptu No. 1, Op. 29 and Nocturne, Op. 9 no. 2.
Cho came to worldwide prominence in 2015 when he won First Prize at the Warsaw International Chopin Competition, the first South Korean pianist to achieve this feat. His technical mastery coupled with his artistic maturity – particularly remarkable given that he was only 21 years old – impressed a jury of seventeen members, including the 1970 competition winner Garrick Ohlsson, who praised Cho as a “remarkable, complete young artist”. After the success of his first studio album for the Yellow Label, featuring Chopin’s First Concerto and the 4 Ballades, also recorded with the LSO and Noseda, Cho is now realising his wish to follow that release with what he considers to be its logical companion, a pairing of the Second Concerto and the four Scherzi.
Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, spoke of the ensemble’s pleasure at being involved in this latest collaboration: “The London Symphony Orchestra and our Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda are delighted to have joined Seong-Jin Cho in the studio to create this wonderful recording of Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 · Scherzi. We’ve enjoyed some memorable concerts together at our Barbican home in the City of London and look forward to many more to come.”
The Concerto in F minor, Op. 21 was the second of Chopin’s two concerti to be published, but the first to be written. Despite the composer’s youth, the salient features of his style were already in place: the heartfelt, cantabile lines; the ingeniously detailed, bel canto-inspired decorative passages; and the extraordinary harmonic invention. Like most pianists, Cho sees the F minor Concerto as less technically demanding than the E minor, however he does not feel that this makes it any less challenging. “One has to find the ideal balance,” he explains, “between the music’s passion and drama and its many moments of delicacy and fragility.”
Cho performed the Chopin F minor for his BBC Proms debut in 2018, with Noseda conducting the European Union Youth Orchestra. Reviewing the performance, the Observer called Cho “a soloist of real poise and refinement” and praised him for “never lapsing into sentimentality”. Alexander Hall (Bachtrack) wrote: “An early indication that Cho had more than just crystalline clarity and tonal fastidiousness to offer came early on in the first movement, where his left hand emphasised the shifting and glittering harmonies rather than allowing the right hand to dominate through the melodic lines. The full-bloodedness of the account was splendidly matched in the weight and expressive power of the orchestral accompaniment.”
Even though “scherzo” literally translates as “joke”, a seriousness of purpose and sense of formal concentration permeate Chopin’s four Scherzi. Their fusion of bravura pianism and epic drama has attracted pianists and audiences alike ever since they first appeared. “In fact, I’ve played the four Scherzi together as a cycle in concerts,” says Cho, “and they seem to feel comfortable all in one place. I think it’s because they are so different in character, yet there is great contrast within each individual piece.”
The appearance of Cho’s new Chopin recording ties in with several remarkable engagements later this year, most notably his performance of Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Olympic Park in Seoul, with the Korean Symphony Orchestra conducted by Shi-Yeon Sung, an event which will take place on the album’s release date.
As concert life continues to open up, Cho is looking forward to reconnecting with his audiences, especially as his artistry continues to develop. “I would say my relationship with Chopin has matured in the last six years,” says the pianist. “My relationship with his music is very progressive, but it’s not something I can define right now, as I think it’s going to be a lifelong journey. Every time I come back to Chopin, I make new discoveries.”