CHOPIN Piano Concerto No 1. Ballades
I don’t know how many recordings of Chopin’s E minor Concerto there are. The Deutsche Grammophon label alone has nearly 20 available, ranging from Anda, Argerich and Askenase to Wunder, Yundi and Zimerman. Whether or not the considerable merits of this newcomer are enough to win a permanent place alongside its distinguished stablemates only time will tell. It certainly has a lot going for it: the pianist is the winner of the 2015 International Chopin Competition, and the conductor is the newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the LSO.
It is Noseda who sets the tone of the performance with an introduction that is full of purpose and not a little swagger. This is no journeyman’s accompaniment but, throughout, one which consistently resolves to make Chopin’s oft-derided orchestral writing important and telling. As to the young Korean Seong-Jin Cho, whose first studio recording this is (his first for DG, another all-Chopin programme, was of live performances from the Competition finals – 2/16), it is not so much his effortless clarity and articulation or lightly pedalled fioritura that capture the attention as much as his ability to let the music breathe. Every time the first movement’s ineffably lovely second subject returns, it becomes more poignant in Cho’s hands. His phrasing here and in the Romanza is truly heart-melting and if the last movement is marginally less special than its predecessors, that hardly counts against this memorable interpretation.
The four Ballades, too, while never in my opinion benefiting from being heard in sequence, have an authority and assurance that compels attention. Are the opening pages of No 1 a tad self-conscious, striving too much for effect? I thought so. But listen to the magical opening of No 2, the deft highlighting of the contrapuntal lines in No 3 (a masterly reading) and the controlled impetuosity of No 4 and you are left in no doubt as to why the jurors in Warsaw voted as they did.