Too often we hear a piece of music or a live performance described as a “journey”, but the latest release from Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho lives up to the cliché. Using Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie as a starting point, the 26-year-old virtuoso takes the listener on a road trip through that masterpiece’s four movements, into the passionate late Romantic landscape of Alban Berg to finish up with the spectacular, vertiginous mountains and valleys of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor.
And the ride is Bentley-smooth luxury with plush trimmings all the way. The fourth of his releases for Deutsche Grammophon, “The Wanderer” album is a sparkling showreel of Cho’s talents and makes an impressive follow-up to his previous Mozart and Debussy albums.
Like his stellar Yellow Label young stablemates Trifonov and Lisiecki, Cho manages to bring something fresh to the table, even though we may have heard the works performed many times before by different pianists.
Schubert is Cho’s favourite composer and it shows in this poetic reading which never loses sight of the work’s melodic sweep and seemingly limitless invention. He eschews sentimentality and has a fine eye for the architecture, while the virtuosic elements present no difficulties for him. The same can be said of the Liszt, which he brings to an enthralling and satisfying climax before the “fade-out” staccato chords that both open and close the work.
Framing Berg’s Sonata Op 1 between these two monumental works serves to highlight the attractive and passionate aspects of the student piece, with its echoes of Wagner, Beethoven and even Debussy.