Color and Light: Seong-Jin Cho’s Debussy

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

One of the memorable selections from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George is called “Color and Light”. The song title befits Seong-Jin Cho’s Debussy interpretations. His beautifully nuanced, intimately tapered interpretations of the Images evoke the comparable refinement of Ivan Moravec’s classic recordings. Admittedly they occupy a smaller scale in relation to Michelangeli’s scintillating brilliance in Reflets dans l’eau and Poissons d’or, while Bavouzet conveys stronger narrative flow in Hommage à Rameau and steadier rhythm throughout Cloches à travers les feuilles. In The Children’s Corner Suite, Cho’s fanciful rubatos and unexpected accents cast humorous light on Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, while Jimbo’s Lullaby’s bass register-heavy writing benefits from subtle gradations of touch and shading.

Serenade for the Doll is a bit too coy, held back, and uniformly characterized for my taste; here I prefer Michelangeli’s more palpable mood changes and faster tempo. Cho’s shimmering, soft-hued shaping of the rapid alternating patterns in The Snow is Dancing reveals the music’s kinship with the phase shifting that Steve Reich would make famous around 70 years later. At the same time, Golliwog’s Cake-walk suffers from Cho’s stiff feeling for Debussy’s syncopated syntax and from instances of over-phrasing, which certainly is not the case concerning Cho’s bracing, stylish aplomb in the Suite bergamasque.

Abetted by Cho’s discreetly pedaled legato touch, L’isle joyeuse flickers with limpid grace, although, to my way of thinking, the heated abandon and superior dynamism of Bavouzet’s recording (not to mention Horowitz’s 1966 live performances) serve the neo-Lisztian piano writing better. A fine disc, overall, and splendidly engineered.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Images: Michelangeli (DG); Children’s Corner: Thibaudet (Decca), Suite bergamasque: Bavouzet (Chandos); L’isle joyeuse: Horowitz (Sony)

    Images Books I & II; Children’s Corner; Suite bergamasque; L’isle joyeuse
  • Seong-Jin Cho (piano)

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