South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho, first prize winner of the XVII International Chopin Piano Competition (2015), plays Frédéric Chopin's Four Ballades. Recorded at the Studio 4, Flagey, Brussels, on July 1, 2017.
The Four Ballades, composed between 1831 and 1842, are perhaps the most perfect examples of Chopin's instinctive sense of musical shape and tonal organisation.
The sheer technical finesse of his piano writing may be displayed more extrovertly in his studies, his lyrical gifts distilled down to a more concentrated essence in the preludes, and mazurkas and nocturnes, his revolutionary approach to large-scale form demonstrated more potently in the second andthird sonatas. But it's in the ballades, and the F minor Fantasy composed in the same period, that allthese facets of his music are welded into a single all-embracing form.
The title implies some kind of narrative programme behind the music, and Robert Schumann, to whom the second in F major is dedicated, claimed that Chopin had told him that a quartet of ballads by the poet Adam Mickiewicz was the starting point for these extraordinary pieces, even revealing their titles – Konrad Wallenrod, Switez, The Water Sprite and The Three Budrys. There is no clinching evidence either way, but it scarcely matters the musical argument in each of the four pieces is so clear, the drama so self- contained and convincing that no literary explanation is required.
It's surprising that by no means all the great Chopin interpreters of the 20th century have tackled the ballades in the studio. There are recordings of any of them by Dinu Lipatti, Sviatoslav Richter or Martha Argerich, for instance, while Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli favoured just No.1 in G minor, and Vladimir Horowitz the F minor fourth.
Source: Andrew Clements (theguardian.com)
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
♪ Four Ballades
1. Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23 (1831-1835)
2. Ballade No.2 in F major, Op.38 (1836-1839)
3. Ballade No.3 in A flat major, Op.47 (1840-1841)
4. Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 (1842, rev. 1843)
Seong-Jin Cho, piano
Studio 4, Flagey, Brussels, July 1, 2017
Chopin is a classic figure of romance, a French Pole exiled from a martyred country and a man whose piquantly obscure love life attracted the creators of sugar-coated fiction, a revolutionary yet a stickler for convention and a realist who, to quote his own words, was a dreamer in "strange spaces". Chopin despised disorder and felt that "the best things are those in which the first thoughts of inspiration are not spoiled by later reflection". Most romantic of all, Chopin created a spiritualized conception of his native Poland, writing her tragic and tangled history with an elegance, passion, glamour and strength that made country and composer synonymous. Also, no other composer devoted himself so whole-heartedly to a single instrument, saying "the piano is my solid ground, on that I stand the straightest". Chopin was no jack-of-all trades, but a master of one.
Chopin's Four Ballades are products of his maturity and have understandably been called "the finest and most original of all his creations". Composed in 1831-1835, 1836-1839, 1840-1841 and 1842 respectively the Ballades extend from Chopin's early years as a restless émigré to the golden if tarnished summers spent in Nohant with his mistress, George Sand.
All four works are united by their use of compound duple time and by subtly or boldly contrasting first and second subjects, yet unlike the 24 Preludes, for example, the Ballades are individual creations ungathered beneath a single opus and ungoverned by any overall unity of statement. Their title, too, meant that Chopin could free himself from classical restraint and, while occasionally reminding us of rondo, sonata or variation form, resolve the most inflexible academic considerations into an audaciously turbulent and liberated poetry. Few compositions show such a romantic yet supremely disciplined imagination and it is significant that Chopin created a novel genre for a no less novel form of expression.
According to Schumann at least two of the Ballades (Nos. 2 and 3) were inspired by the nationalist poetry of Chopin's compatriot Adam Mickiewicz. But Schumann's assumption that the Ballades are programmatic is misleading. Chopin was patriotic but he was hardly a conscious propagandist, and whatever relation the Third Ballade, for example, has to Mickiewicz's "Undine" is general rather than exact. Chopin's genius could be prompted but hardly contained by such a specific source.
The limitation of such literary parallels is immediately apparent at the start of the First Ballade. Remarkable when first written, the opening musical arch seems scarcely less original today. The rapid loss of confidence after such a resplendent introduction and the transformation of the subdued first and second subjects into outbursts of passionate declamation and song could never be reduced to a satisfying verbal equivalent, however subtle or distinguished. The cadences which conclude each phrase of the first subject are left unresolved and it takes a lengthy and agitated elaboration to resolve such unease in the assuaging second subject in E flat major. However, the music remains pensive and wistful, and only a further and triumphant shift into A major fully erases all doubts and questions. Blazing octaves lead to a capricious waltz-like variation, mischievously spiced and syncopated before a sudden descent returns us to both the principal subjects. These culminate in a coda introduced Il più forte possibile and marked Presto con fuoco. Ricocheting figuration leads to boiling scales and dramatic, recitative-like interjections before a plunge reinforced with grace notes and a mixture of contrary motion and unison octaves.
The Second Ballade is dedicated to Schumann and its violently opposed first and second subjects could hardly have been excelled by that master of vivid contrasts. The opening quaver crotchet rhythm establishes the basic compound duple time, but the music's deceptively placid progress is enlivened by syncopation and several surprise turns, a remarkable instance of simplicity without monotony. The subsequent tornado (sufficiently sudden to encourage all lovers of programme music) subsides, and a series of left-hand scales gradually calms the fury of this wintry blast. The principal subject returns and after a brooding development and a passage of great improvisatory daring the second subject's violence is once more unleashed. Insistent tremolandi and trills announce a coda whose percussive force looks ahead towards the twentieth century and to the caustic brilliance of Prokofiev. Chopin, however, reserves his masterstroke for the final bars where the opening theme reappears plaintif and resigned in A minor, its original and, in retrospect, naive optimism defeated.
After such despondency the Third Ballade seems positively light-hearted. Based on two principal motives contained in the opening bars Chopin's free-wheeling style once more thinly disguises a remarkable coherence, balance and symmetry. First played before an audience "full of golden ribbons, soft blue gauzes and strings of trembling pearls" its musical charms could hardly fail to succeed. Others, perhaps less lavishly attired, will note that although Chopin's contrapuntal skill in the working-out section is considerable he wears his learning lightly. With Chopin, art conceals art and the way he achieves such fine gradations and inwardness of feeling is discreetly veiled from view. Even a sudden central change to C sharp minor cannot cloud the music's radiance for, via a series of daring modulations, the opening theme finally emerges triumphant, firmly established in the home-key and with a final cascade of ideas, previously employed, to suggest tumultuous applause.
Together with the Barcarolle, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, and the second and third sonatas, the Fourth Ballade represents the summit of Chopin's art. The tentative start is haunting and suggestive and was once beautifully described by the critic Joan Chissell as bringing the same sense of wonder that a blind person, if granted the gift of sight, might feel on discovering the world's beauty for the first time. The principal, highly Slavonic theme is closely related to the first of Chopin's Trois Nouvelles Études (1839), the second of the opus 25 Études and surely provided an inspiration for Liszt's La Leggierezza (1848; all four works are in the key of F minor). It returns twice bejewelled, and the second subject's appearance in B flat and the return of the opening in A flat never disrupt the music's self-generating momentum. An aerial cadenza and a canonic treatment of the first subject bear eloquent witness to Chopin's increasing veneration for Bach, and the build-up and the pianissimo chords announcing a coda of the most fiery intricacy are as remarkable as anything in Chopin. They remind us simultaneously of his capacity for large-scale heroics and for the most intimate and hauntingly distinctive confidences.
Source: Bryce Morrison, 2004 (hyperion-records.co.uk)
With an overwhelming talent and innate musicality, Seong-Jin Cho is rapidly embarking on a world-class career and considered one of the most distinctive artists of his generation. His thoughtful and poetic, assertive and tender, virtuosic and colorful playing can combine panache with purity and is driven by an impressive natural sense of balance.
Seong-Jin Cho was brought to the world's attention in Fall 2015 when he won the coveted First Prize at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. This same competition launched the careers of world-class artists such as Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, or Krystian Zimerman.
In January 2016, Seong-Jin signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The first recording was released in November 2016 featuring Chopin's First Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda and the Four Ballades. A solo Debussy was then released in November 2017. Both albums won impressive critical acclaim worldwide.
An active recitalist, he performs in many of the world's most prestigious concert halls. In the 2018-2019 season, he will return to the main stage of Carnegie Hall as part of the Keyboard Virtuoso series where he had sold out in 2017. He will also return to Amsterdam's Concertgebouw in the Master Pianists series and will play recitals at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal (Berliner Philharmonic concert series), Frankfurt's Alte Oper, Los Angeles' Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles Philharmonic recital series), Zurich's Tonhalle-Maag, Stockholm's Konserthuset, Munich's Prinzregententheater, Chicago's Mandel Hall, Lyon's Auditorium, La Roque d'Anthéron Festival, Verbier Festival, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Rheingau Festival among several other venues.
During that season, he will play with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, at the Barbican Centre, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung at the Paris Philharmonie, Finnish Radio Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, Philadelphia Orchestra and David Afkham, Orchestra della Scala with Myung-Whun Chung. He will also tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda in venues like Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, the WDR Sinfonieorchester and Marek Janowski in Germany and with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Asia.
He collaborates with conductors at the highest level such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gianandrea Noseda, Antonio Pappano, Myung-Whun Chung, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov, Krzysztof Urbanski, Fabien Gabel, Marek Janowski, Vassily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Leonard Slatkin or Mikhail Pletnev.
In November 2017, Seong-Jin stepped in for Lang Lang with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hong-Kong and Seoul. Other major orchestral appearances include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Mariinsky Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, ND Elbphilharmonie Orchester, RAI Symphony Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.
Born in 1994 in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho started learning the piano at 6 and gave his first public recital at age 11. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever winner of Japan's Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. In 2011, he won Third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 17. In 2012, he moved to Paris to study with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique where he graduated in 2015. He is now based in Berlin.
Frédéric Chopin: 24 Préludes, Op.28 – Yuja Wang (HD 1080p)