The title of pianist Seong-Jin Cho’s fifth album is based on the album’s first piece—Schubert’s notoriously difficult Fantasy in C Major, Op. 15, D. 760, popularly known as the "Wanderer Fantasy"—but it may as well refer to Cho’s professional life. A Seoul native, he’s lived abroad in Paris and Berlin since 2012, and has toured in and out of the world’s top venues (Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall) since becoming the first South Korean to win first prize at the prestigious, career-launching Chopin International Competition in Warsaw in 2015. Filled with sophisticated performances, The Wanderer is his first album to feature more than one composer. "I always wanted to record an album that had multiple composers, but getting the right concept was always a challenge," Cho tells Apple Music. "Recording music from a single composer is clearly easier for capturing their unique character. Schubert, Berg, and Liszt seem like composers with clearly very different personalities." Cho explains how he rose to the challenge and breaks down each piece in an interview with Apple Music.
Fantasy in C Major, Op. 15, D. 760 "Wanderer" (by Schubert) “‘Wanderer Fantasy’ is a piece that Schubert himself had difficulty playing, referring to it by saying ‘the devil may play it,’ as it was so technically demanding. The second movement bases its theme on ‘Der Wanderer,’ which Schubert wrote in 1816. It sounds like the wanderer is in search of hope and happiness, coming from a place of gloom. The fourth movement sounds confident and vivacious. The first movement is somewhere between the second and fourth movements: It feels valiant, with some very introspective moments in the middle. The third movement is played in the triple meter of waltz time, and you can imagine what an original Viennese waltz may have been like in the olden days. Overall, ‘Wanderer’ is very free-form; without clear distinguishable breaks between movements, it can sound like a single movement. There are a lot of progressive ideas that Schubert was trying out here."
Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (by Berg) “This sonata is Alban Berg's first composition. In fact, Berg was in his mid-twenties when he wrote it. I am 25 now, and his composition truly humbles me. Like the Schubert and Liszt [pieces], this is in the form of a sonata, but interpreted via the idea of 'developing variation.' The tonality has a very unstable feel, but it is actually in the key of B minor. One shared feature of [the album's] three compositions is that they are innovative with a limited number of motifs. For instance, Schubert's 'Wanderer' starts with a particular rhythm in the first movement and carries it all the way to the end. Berg is also masterfully talented in composing with rhythmic variations or taking a few motifs to create a full, convincing composition. I think Berg's sonata is quite complex and nuanced. It conveys a deep sense of mystery, with pockets of romance and serenity, with polyphonic aspects to it. It invokes a wide range of feelings, almost as if there were multiple composers at work; at moments it can feel very like J.S. Bach, and then it might feel like Wagner. You can sense the profound influence of Berg's teacher Arnold Schoenberg in those moments, but Berg's personality also shines through."
Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178 (by Liszt) “Liszt's sonata is more than 30 minutes long. My first recital of it was nine years ago, and the sensibilities of the composition feel quite different to me now. I think it was the longest singular performance for me at the time. There was Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, but Liszt's sonata felt more epic, and I remember feeling excited to play it. It boasts some of the greatest depth among all the classical compositions for piano; it embodies a complex body of messages. Liszt himself never stated it as such, but there are portions that conjure up Mephistopheles from Goethe's Faust, and at times it feels like a biography, expressing the whole person rather than just a slice out of the day. Liszt wrote plenty of fabulous songs, and he himself was a highly respected virtuoso pianist, but this sonata ends on a quiet note. So every time I play the quiet end, it strikes me as a memento mori. Even though I am only 25 years old, I think this song is a very dramatic piece that constantly reminds the listener to what life—and death—is.”