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Claude Debussy: Images, L 110 [Set I] – Images, L 111 [Set II] – Children’s Corner, L113 – Suite bergamasque, L 75 – L’Isle joyeuse, L 106
Seong-Jin Cho (piano)
Recording: Siemens Villa, Berlin, Germany (June 2017) – 72’47
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 479 8308 – Booklet in English, German and French

If ever a pianist existed who’d give classical music demonstrative scale and illuminating heft, it would go to Seong-Jin Cho. Since winning the XVII International Chopin Competition in 2015, this veritable young Korean has neatly progressed and enveloped himself inside Claude Debussy’s impressionistic indulgences. Three years earlier, this virtuosic 23 year old decided to continue education in his most favored city, Paris. Studying under Debussyian scholar, Michel Béroff, M. Cho supplemented this tutelage by soaking up paintings found in the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie.

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. Such a point can also be made within Serenade for the doll and the realization of a Chinese pentatonic scale...boyhood in Korea had its own set of advantages.

Because of Debussy’s rich delicacies, it was critical to determine which Steinway would yield the most convincing results: M. Cho sacrificed one of greater showmanship for one with magnification of lightness and softness. Children’s Corner best exemplifies this objective. 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!

Christie Grimstad




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