Brief review: Seong-jin Cho’s Rachmaninov at the Barbican

Seong-jin Cho at the Barbican, 28 March 2019
Seong-jin Cho at the Barbican, 28 March 2019

I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed at Seong-jin Cho’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto at the Barbican at the end of March. There was no shortage of virtuoso filligree fingerwork and moments of poetry, but somehow the performance as a whole lacked passion and fire. Perhaps part of the problem was rapport between orchestra and conductor: I always find it distracting when an orchestra plays half a second behind the beat of the conductor as the LSO did for Gianandrea Noseda on this occasion, as it indicates a lack of chemistry, and in such circumstances it must be difficult for a soloist, particularly one at the start of his career, to know how to respond. For me, the best response was to close my eyes so as not to witness the distraction and instead listen to the music, an approach which eliminated the visual negatives and allowed me to focus more on the eloquent but somewhat restrained music-making.

I think I was in a minority in not particularly warming to the approach: Cho’s performance of the Rachmaninov received an enthusiastic welcome from the audience. But for me, his encore, Tchaikovsky’s October: Autumn Song from The Seasons was completely spell-binding and worth the price of the ticket on its own.

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