Sunday-Morning Mozart from Seong-Jin Cho and Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

When I heard Seong-Jin Cho perform in the final of the 2015 Chopin competition, he and his E minor concerto stood out for a “velvet brawn and a big, smooth sound” and “a long, thick stream of unrelenting beauty”. But not having heard earlier rounds, I couldn’t possibly have known that the eventual winner of the competition would turn out to be such a fine recording artist. The series of releases on DG hasn’t been just a marketing ploy driven by a lucrative Korean market; the youngster’s Debussy and Chopin simply is very good. His Mozart debut—one concerto and two sonatas—bodes well, too.

With Yannick Nézet-Séguin, that other marketing ace up DG’s sleeve, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the D minor concerto flies by, happily. As so often, a good deal of the Nézet-Séguin charm so present in concerts gets lost on disc. Same here, but not so much that the result isn’t a flowing, slightly superficial performance that succeeds in a delicate balancing act between a muscular throwback interpretation and modern/historical informed lightness. Not life-altering Mozart but Sunday-morning smile-on-your-face Mozart.

The Sonatas are equally and smoothly delightful: The K. 281 Andante is taken more fleetingly than indulgingly “amoroso”—but if you missed indulgence there, you’ll get it back in the Adagio of K. 332 which Seong-Jin really lets sing. The finale of K. 281 threatens to go by the board…as if it were a musical afterthought of two pulled and carefully twisted movements, but that’s already forgotten by the opening Allegro of K. 332 where quicker tempos and delicate ornamentations in the repeats (where he takes them; the second of the first movement, for example, is skipped) are a welcome touch. For a more level-headed, pointed alternative, Jean Muller’s recent disc (the first of a projected cycle proves to be a viable alternative. And Seong-Jin Cho’s fellow Korean William Yun plays—on both sonatas—with greater depth and feeling without overegging the pudding. But then the latter is as high a bar as can be currently set in Mozart. DG captures its stars in very fine, rich-but-natural sound.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concerto: Brendel/Mackerras (Philips); Goode/Orpheus (Nonesuch); Moravec/Marriner (Hänssler), Sonatas: Youn (Oehms); Brautigam (BIS); Haebler (Denon)

  • Seong-Jin Cho (piano)
  • Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

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