Silence, Sadness, and Glee in Seong-Jin Cho’s Mozart

Jan 28, 2019

The winner of the 2015 Chopin Competition is just 24 years old, but he has a handle on the special kind of wisdom required to make Mozart speak to each of us directly – and that wisdom is evident on his latest recording, WCRB's CD of the Week.

When writer Frances Wilson asked pianist Seong-Jin Cho what his idea of perfect happiness is, he said he loves being in a place where there is no noise. It’s an unusual response, but this 24-year-old is unusual, too. While all composers coax their music from a personal brand of silence, Mozart’s is special. When pianists tap into the power of it, the result is so affecting, it can almost feel as though Mozart knew our own secrets.

Seong-Jin Cho was born in Seoul in 1994. His parents weren’t musicians, but their opera and symphony recordings, especially of Mozart and Beethoven, were his companions. By listening, Seong-Jin became intimately familiar with the lyrical drama in Mozart’s universe, and he clearly discovered its need to breathe and speak. At 15, he was the youngest-ever winner of Japan’s Hamamatsu Piano Competition; at 17, he took third prize at the Tchaikovsky competition; and at 21 he became the first South Korean to win the International Chopin Competition.

That was more than enough competing for Seong-Jin Cho, who said he felt “free” after winning the Chopin competition, knowing he was through with that stage of his life.

And there is freedom in his Mozart. His performance on this CD of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 is as dramatic and full of extremes as the composer's operas. And, what luck Seong-Jin Cho has found in working with Yannick Nézet-Séguin! The Chamber Orchestra of Europe opens this recording by pulling us into Mozart’s urgent and expressive world. Every nuance and every phrase is brought to a perfect and emotionally calibrated climax, so that the music whispers, roars and sings. The crystalline sound of the piano, when it finally arrives, makes us wonder how vulnerable its voice will become, and Seong-Jin Cho is bent on finding an equally varied and extreme world of sound, knowing that vulnerability is part of the story.

Cho’s love of silence serves him well in the third and twelfth piano sonatas, where the slow movements are patient and unafraid to let the emptiness seep through the fabric. He has said that he finds his greatest joy in playing Mozart. Listen to the finale of the F Major Sonata (track 9) to hear him channeling Mozart’s gleeful love of life.

See a trailer for the new CD:

Listen to Cho on WCRB In Concert with Rockport Music, on-demand.

To purchase this recording, and for more information, visit ArkivMusic.