Posted by: hksounds | March 7, 2015

Review – Seong Jin-Cho

seong-Jin ChoNot in a Korean Boy Band

Seong-Jin Cho, Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Friday, March 6, 2015, 8:15 pm

And aren’t we lucky he isn’t. He certainly has the looks to fit right in, and a loyal following of Korean girls who flew to Hong Kong for his performance. But this young man is one of the most talented classical pianists I have ever heard and I have been listening and attending piano recitals for a very long time. I have heard many in the same hall, most of whose names I have forgotten but I will remember Seong-Jin Cho.

All the pianists who go on world tours have to be very good, otherwise they will stay home and become music teachers or go into banking. Among those who tour the world, there are a few who are great. I feel so lucky to have been in Hong Kong and so many. Nevertheless, all great things are not equally great and performers may not have the same level of accomplishment in every aspect of playing.

Some are brilliant technicians who can play every note with perfection. No note will be missed or finger misplaced no matter how fast. The is certainly true of Cho.

Others are consummate musicians with respect to their musical sensibilities as expressed in their phrasing and tonal coloring. There are fewer who have both the technical ability and the musicality. Cho does.  Being technically proficient yet lacking musicality is more common than those who don’t listen to much classical music might think and is akin to being a technically superb dancer but not being graceful. Technique can be taught but not musicality or grace. It’s a rare wonder when we encounter them both in a singular performer.

His phrasings are intelligent, perceptive, interesting and spot on as he brings out the  emotions underlying the piece.

The Mozart Sonata in B-flat, K281, he brought out all the playfulness and spontaneity that exists in the piece. A playful smile could be seen to suffuse his face throughout those passages. He looked to be thoroughly enjoying the work and, surprisingly for me, who is Mozart challenged, I did too.

He also has the kind of dynamic range someone playing at this level is expected to display. His tempos ranged from very brisk to more leisurely without compromising on clarity and expressiveness.

Not every great pianist has the ability to work right and left hands seamlessly so that neither line is lost or subsumed in the other. I wondered if Cho is left-handed to try and explain what I was hearing because I have rarely heard a left hand played more clearly, with more articulation in perfect balance with the right. I could follow his left-hand playing and recognize its contributions to the overall composition throughout each piece regardless of temp, dynamics or melodic phrasing without sacrificing the work as a whole. Phenomenal!

Everything about the two Schubert Impromptus was a delight as he again gave a little smile. This piece exhibits more gravitas and maturity than the Mozart with more complex emotions and depth of feeling but this young man did not falter in probing those depths.

Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes No, 10 was a further exploration of the technical side. The transcendental etudes were developed by Liszt to enhance his own pianistic skills and certainly technique was on display, both by the artist and of the composer. He exhibited a deft touch and much skill and was certainly the envy of the man sitting beside me who just shook his head, not in censure but in amazement.

The second half of the programme was all Chopin and what a dazzling tour de force it was. From the Ballade No.2 in F, Op 38, to the Piano Sonata no.2 in b-flat minor, Op 35, to the Scherzo No. 2 in b-flat minor, Op 31 we were in the presence of a non-stop virtuosic extravaganza.  This is not to say that it was all flair and no nuance or all bravura and no tenderness. That would be entirely incorrect. I was especially struck by how he played the Marche Funebre: Lento which is familiar to many who know very little classical music. It is somber music but I liked that he played it with a brisker tempo than the usual that for me often drags. Cho infused it with great dignity and seriousness without being sentimental or ponderous.

He ended the concert with two encores, both Chopin which he did not introduce. I believe the first encore was a Chopin Waltz and I know the other was the famous Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53. His performance was worthy of the highest praise and anymore superlatives would debase the verbal currency.

Tonight was a bravo performance and surely will be one of the highlights, if not the highlight of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.

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Responses

  1. The first encore was Chopin’s Nocturne No.13 in C minor, Op.48 No.1. 🙂
    Hope to hear the piece again in Warsaw!

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    • Thank you for the information. What’s up in Warsaw? Let us know all about it. I was in Warsaw once, long ago and the closest to Chopin I got was hearing a Polonaise on the radio while driving through the countryside.

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      • He is expected to participate in The International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Oct. The preliminary round for the competition begins in Apr and his name is on the list!

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        • That’s awesome. I’m sure we’ll all be checking the news but. please give us a report/photos, etc. if you don’t mind. And be sure to have a great time in Warsaw. Eat some Gołąbki (Gwomki), Polish stuffed cabbage, for me and try the sausages; they are incredible. Thanks again for sharing.

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