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The 25-year-old South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho hit stardom when he won the 2015 Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, but he had already won prizes in the Hamamatsu, Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky competitions. His performance in Warsaw was both ravishing and flawless, and his Southbank debut with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 under Vladimir Ashkenazy’s direction still glows in my memory. The beauty of his playing seemed effortless, with never any hint of exaggeration.

Yet despite his immaculate technique and his instinctive poetry, he still seems unknown. What kind of animal is he? Where is his unique voice? This new album goes some way towards answering those questions. He thinks the stress should fall on the second word of Schubert’s title: he treats the ‘Wanderer’ very much as a fantasy, revelling in the lyrical and Ländler episodes as much as the stormy ones, and bringing out the way the work exists in one unbroken arch.

And in the same way so does his entire programme: not only is the Liszt Sonata one uninterrupted outpouring, but Seong-Jin Cho also segues into it from the Berg. In the latter he finds great beauty in the way dark passions surge beneath the surface calm, and with the Liszt he’s in his element: I have never heard the staccato fugue delivered with such rapidity, lightness and control.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica


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