Seong-Jin Cho at Carnegie Hall – Haydn, Ravel, Liszt

Haydn
Sonata in E-minor, Hob.XVI:34

Ravel
Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn
Le tombeau de Couperin

 Liszt
Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italie

Seong-Jin Cho (piano)


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 17 May, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Four months after his Carnegie Hall appearance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seong-Jin Cho returned, opening with one of Haydn’s few Sonatas in a minor key. After the impatiently insistent opening came a suitably sprightly delivery of the extraordinarily passionate Presto first movement. The tenderly rendered Adagio, its flowery filigree brimming with light, moved seamlessly via a passage of operatic-like recitative into a bouncy and bracing Finale.

Although in a more modern mode, much of Ravel’s oeuvre draws on styles and composers of the past. Cho delivered a wistful version of the short Minuet written to commemorate the 1909 centenary of Haydn’s death, a bittersweet piece in which the first five notes of the recurring theme form a musical anagram of the Viennese master’s name. Dedicated to friends who lost their lives in World War I, the six-part Le tombeau de Couperin evokes a 17th-century dance suite. Among the many delights in Cho’s performance were the distinctive textures in the opening ‘Prélude’ and ensuing ‘Fugue’, the crisp articulation in the ‘Forlane’,  the polished approach to the snappy ‘Rigaudon’, the refined clarity of the heartfelt ‘Menuet’, and the electrifying intensity of the concluding ‘Toccata’.

The second half was taken up by the seven pieces in the second volume of Années de pèlerinage, a musical album resulting from Liszt’s travels in Italy in the 1830s. A rapturous rendering of the intensely spiritual ‘Sposalizio’, inspired by Raphael’s painting ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ in Milan, was followed by a dirge-like account of ‘Il penseroso’. After a charmingly rhythmic treatmentof the jaunty ‘Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa’, based on a 17th-century song by Giovanni Bononcini, came ingeniously varied characterizations of three ‘Sonneti del Petrarca’, the ballad-like No.123, with its iridescent chromatic runs coming off as the most chimerical. Cho’s most dynamic and powerful playing came in the final piece, ‘Après une lecture du Dante; Fantasia quasi sonata’, also known as the ‘Dante Sonata’, a lengthy reflection on the trials of Paolo and Francesca, the damned lovers in Dante’s Inferno

There were two encores: ‘Traumerei’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen,and a virtuosic account of Chopin’s ‘Heroic’ Polonaise in A-flat.

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