In his latest recording, 23-year-old South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho presents an all-Debussy program. Debussy follows Cho's two best-selling Chopin recordings. It is entirely fitting that Seong-Jin Cho, winner of the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition, should now turn to Debussy. Towards his life's close, the French composer edited the piano works of Chopin, an experience that reignited his creativity, opening his heart to music he had loved since childhood. In turn, Cho's connection to Debussy runs deep. He performed "Golliwogg's Cake-walk" from Children's Corner as part of his first public recital at the age of 11, and his passion for the composer developed in parallel with his exploration of Chopin. He was therefore delighted to have the opportunity of commemorating the centenary of Debussy's death, which falls in March 2018, with his own tribute.
Since childhood, Cho has felt many affinities with Debussy and he was keen to mark the centenary in his own style. The new album features both books of Images, each comprising three pieces of breathtaking imagination, in company with Children's Corner and Suite Bergamasque, the latter including the hugely popular "Clair de lune". Rounding things off in jubilant fashion is the beautiful "L'Isle joyeuse." Cho's album begins with music that sounds as if it could have existed for all eternity, despite bearing the hallmarks of what its composer described as "the most recent discoveries of harmonic chemistry."
The enigmatic opening of "Reflets dans l'eau" from Images I sets the mood for the pianist's tribute to one of the last century's most original creative minds. He goes on to perform the remaining works of the two books of Images, bringing out every subtle nuance of music that demands true virtuosity. The Children's Corner suite offers inventiveness, fantasy and touches of humor followed by the elegant Suite bergamasque, at whose heart lies the haunting "Clair de lune". Rounding off proceedings is L'Isle joyeuse whose atmospheric, energetic writing makes it the ideal finale to this homage to Debussy.
It was, however, the stillness and concentration of so much of the composer's piano music, rarely disturbed by forceful dynamic markings, that directed Seong-Jin Cho to choose a Steinway concert grand specially set up to convey the subtlest shifts of sound color. "Debussy's sound, for me, is about light and shade," the pianist observes. "He understood how silence is the ground from which music grows and that musical sounds move in and out of silence. I wanted a piano that allowed me to slip from sound into silence and back again, without marking hard boundaries between the two. It's so important to get this right in Debussy, who had a limitless concept of what sound could be. That's why I was delighted to find an instrument with the lightness and flexibility of touch to do that."