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While Seong-Jin Cho’s previous (live) recording was something of a mixed bag, this new release offers superb performances of core repertoire. Here is his first-ever studio recording, and he shines. The concerto was recorded at Abbey Road. Noseda, now the LSO’s principal guest conductor, shapes the orchestral contributions superbly, as if his script is to dispel any illusions regarding the ‘ineptitude’ of Chopin’s scoring. Cho sees the melodic lines as derived from bel canto, which gives the interpretation a perfectly lyrical slant; yet it is the attention to detail that impresses most. Nothing is taken for granted, while in the central Romanze, Cho spins his line as if from silk. The music has a lovely sense of space and the pianist finds a delicious touch that transforms the skitterings of the finale into magic.

Recorded three months later in Hamburg, we have the generous coupling of the Ballades. The tender moments of Ballade No 1 are lulling without turning to the somnolent; the more fiery passages still hold perfect clarity, if not the thrill of live performance. The Second is a more successful, its parts perfectly in balance, voice-leading a particular joy. The languorous opening of No 3 seems some way from the prescribed Allegretto, but the interpretation blossoms splendidly; No 4 finds Cho in more consistent form, the inner-voice trills superbly done within a wonderful, overarching sense of flow.

For both Concerto and Ballades, the competition is of course huge. Nevertheless, Cho has his own voice, perfectly attuned to Chopin. If the Ballades hint ever so subtly that he may find this level of excellence difficult to sustain, there remains a huge amount to enjoy here.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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