Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Jae-Hyuck Cho’s Beethoven Sonata Album

from Jae-Hyuck Cho’s Media & Recordings Web page

According to Amazon.com, Sony Classical released the latest solo album by Korean pianist Jae-Hyuck Cho, entitled Beethoven: Sonatas for Piano, at the beginning of November last year. However, as of this writing, it appears to be available only through MP3 download. I can usually count on Google to point me to overseas Amazon listings to see if a physical copy was included on one of those sites, but this was not the case. For that matter, Cho’s own Web site seems to have little more than the cover photograph and an audio clip for this album (and the photograph is attached to the playlist for another album).

Personally, I do not feel as if this is a great loss for the (probably sizable) community of those taking the act of listening to performances of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven seriously. By this time I have lost count of the number of recordings in my collection of pianists, both living and dead, performing one or more of the piano sonatas. All the more impressive is the impressive degree of diversity across the interpretations of even the most familiar of those sonatas.

For his own album, Cho could not have chosen more familiar ground: Opus 13 (“Pathétique”) in C minor, Opus 57 (“Appassionata”) in F minor, and Opus 53 (“Waldstein”) in C major. The mere mention of any of the titles attached to those sonatas tends to elicit a hear-we-go-again response from even the most passionate admirers of Beethoven; but, in spite of such jaded first impressions, there always seem to be pianists capable of shining new light on these old chestnuts. Unfortunately, Cho is not one of those pianists. His technical fidelity is unquestionably solid, but he plays as if the very concept of rhetoric was an alien one.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat interesting to see that the Amazon download page includes a “bonus track” for the album. This is Franz Liszt’s S. 566 transcription of “Widmung,” the first song in Robert Schumann’s Opus 25 Myrthen cycle. This is a case in which technique rises above all other elements, and Cho’s technique could not be better. He even knows how to respect Schumann’s passing reference to Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” theme without worrying about whether Schumann or Liszt was trying to be ironic.

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