DEBUSSY Images I & II / Cho 4798336

If ever a pianist existed who'd give classical music demonstrative scale and illuminating heft, it would go to Seong-Jin Cho . . . M. Cho can pull out of his hip pocket those Far East predilections to incisively convey unique philosophical understanding that's compounded by Debussy's own gradient admiration for Japanese art and other Asian musical modes. One witnesses Seong-Jin Cho's personal connection inside "Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut": the art of the note limpidly flows to hand, to key . . . sparkling detection . . . M. Cho truly has a cerebral chemistry by gazing at an avante-garde [artist's] canvas to discern important elements that tend to be overlooked [by others] . . . This pianist's effective use of rests (i.e. "The Little Shepherd") draws close parallels to an artist's use of "negative space" on a parchment. The transcriptions of this resolutely colorful music are keen and clean . . . No question about it . . . Seong-Jin Cho controls Debussy's music like a treasured keepsake: the bond is clearly unshakable. In comparison to other Debussy interpreters, the Korean's tempos trend slower. That said, one hears sincerity on keys, a man politely pointing to pensive outreach. This decided approach is well evidenced during the "Suite bergamasque". In particular, "Clair de lune" draws dramatic apexes throughout the composition, though the ethereal élan never skitters about. Hearing M. Cho's revered admirations of Claude Debussy's memorable works is sheer delight. A personal favorite (from this reviewer's point-of-view), "L'Isle joyeuse", is M. Cho's "finition de couronnement". This quixotic pacing and effervescent take likens itself to a brush sweeping away at a watercolour wash: both artist swipes and ivoried strikes are vibrant and charismatically happy. "Suprême"!

. . . [Cho] brings his understated, coiled-spring pianism to Debussy, and his playing is riveting as ever . . . what comes across strongly here is how he makes each of these little pieces into a complete canvas: every adjustment of speed or volume finely weighted to keep the whole in balance . . . "Clair de Lune" sounds freshly thought of. "Children's Corner" is as smilingly serious as it should be, and "Mouvement", from the first book of "Images", bubbles with expectation . . . [in "L'Isle joyeuse"] his transparent, ultimately exuberant performance is very rewarding.

. . . [in "Children's Corner" Seong-Jin Cho delivers] clarity and a striking sense of intimacy . . . In the final number, the "Golliwog's Cakewalk", Cho goes at it with a will, finding plenty of charm too . . . "Suite bergamasque" suits Cho's delicate pianism particularly well, and he brings charm to the Prélude and a piquant exuberance to the Minuet, his upward-rushing scales suitably crystalline. He makes "Clair de lune" individual without recourse to exaggeration and the final "Passepied" wraps things up with a winsome delicacy.

. . . [Cho] catches that special Debussyan combination of grandeur and quicksilver lightness and sudden passion. In "Reflets dans l'leau", he turns the right-hand swirl into pure watery gesture. By contrast he gives a human depth to the "Golliwog's Cakewalk", giving the rhythms an entertaining clown-like irregularity. Most impressive is his rendition of Debussy's "L'Isle joyeuse" . . . Cho gives a triumphant performance, which little by little gathers all the disparate moods together into an ecstatic headlong rush to the end.

. . . [Cho brings scrupulous attention] to his performances . . . "It's an absolute masterpiece . . . incredibly atmospheric and highly poetic" is how Cho describes the "Images" cycle, and atmosphere and poetry are the compelling qualities with which he invests these six glorious pieces. His achievement of colour is breathtaking, with the hues emerging iridescent and luminous. His meticulous pedalling ensures there's no smudging of sonorities, everything is marked by clarity and lucidity. In "Reflets dans l'eau" the water ripples with suppleness and fluidity. Harking back to Rameau's 1737 "Castor and Pollux", "Hommage à Rameau" is nicely paced, never lagging, with a nobility and poise. Mouvement swirls with pristine clarity of articulation and, in the closing bars, I love how the sound just evaporates. The bells of "Cloches a travers les feuilles" ring out incandescently, and "Poissons d'or" is notable for its shimmering delicacy . . . ["Children's Corner"]: Cho's glides over the keys with sparkling fluency. In "The Snow is Dancing", filigree finger-work paints glittering ice crystals. "Golliwog's Cakewalk" carries you along with its wit and buoyant rhythmical syncopations. The richly impressionistic "Suite bergamasque" contains the famous "Clair de lune". Cho elegantly sculpts the sublime melody over gleaming arpeggios. It certainly doesn't get much better than this. The affable Passepied is technically assured and life affirming . . . Seong-Jin Cho's is a natural Debussy player, his myriad pastel shades and artful musicianship are arresting. This is some of the finest Debussy playing I've ever encountered.

. . . [four stars for] Seong-Jin Cho's generous recital . . .

["Images"]: Cet enregistrement nous donne à contempler la maturité précoce d'un artiste . . . ["Reflets dans l'eau"]: Loin du Debussy en petites miettes éparses, comme on l'entend parfois interprété, le pianiste parvient à associer cohérence et liberté; la sensation des barres de mesure disparaît, et l'on se laisse porter par un souffle, que suggèrent des phrasés à la fois soignés et spontanés . . . le toucher du pianiste, quant à lui, stupéfie tout autant que son discours, par son infinie délicatesse, sa prodigieuse versatilité, que l'impeccable prise de son rend à merveille. Chaque note semble pensée, même dans la rapidité . . . ["Mouvement"]: Tout y est: la légèreté facétieuse, la rigueur du moteur rythmique, l'opulence de la pâte sonore, et des trouvailles, comme celle de ce son "louré" plutôt qu'accentué . . . ou ce staccato inattendu, lors du retour du thème, qui ravit l'oreille. L'attention que Cho porte à l'équilibre sonore, dans une musique où rien n'est fortuit, trouve une illustration frappante dans "L'Isle joyeuse", où l'on croit entendre les arabesques de la main gauche pour la première fois . . . sans nul doute, Debussy vient à nouveau de se trouver un grand interprète.

. . . le plus doux des pianistes debussyens a décidé de porter au disque son péché mignon.