Notes and Editorial Reviews
Beyond the pianist’s superlative playing and cpo’s phenomenal recording, it has caused me to reassess my own opinion and attitude toward Liszt in a much more favorable light. If Korstick can do that for me, heretofore a Liszt doubter, imagine what it can do for the Liszt believer. This may be the best piano disc of the year. Urgently recommended.
Années de Pèlerinage, Book 2,
Wiegenlied. Mosonyis Grabgeleit. Am Grabe Richard
Wagners. La Lugubre Gondola
Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch
Michael Korstick (pn)
CPO 777585 (79:56)
No sooner had I dispatched my review of Haiou Zhang’s Liszt recital on Hänssler than here came Michael Korstick’s cpo disc of Liszt’s second book of
Années de Pèlerinage
plus assorted death-themed pieces. A year ago, Korstick’s Book 1 of the cycle appeared, his playing acclaimed by Adrian Corleonis in
33:5 as “major artistry.” My previous engagement with Korstick on a volume of Beethoven piano sonatas in the same
issue did not end in a positive verdict. But Liszt is not Beethoven, so I approached this new release with an open mind and hopeful optimism.
When it comes to
Années de Pèlerinage
, the recording that has heretofore brought me the most satisfaction is Lazar Berman’s 1977 version on Deutsche Grammophon. He commands the power and the poetry to play these technically difficult and often enigmatic works in a way that holds my attention. But having now listened attentively and repeatedly to the disc at hand, I find myself in agreement with Corleonis. Korstick indeed displays a special affinity for Liszt that I did not hear in his Beethoven. His ample technique is tested and passes with flying colors in the “Petrarca” Sonettos 47 and 104, and in the spectacular fireworks of the formidable “Dante” Sonata where the pianist’s explosive cannonades are simultaneously thrilling and scary.
But Korstick also knows how to draw motion and tension from Liszt’s study in stasis, “Penseroso,” and how to transform the halting phrases in the “Petrarca” Sonetto 123 into long-breathed lyrical musings. This is magnificent pianism in service to some of Liszt’s most frightfully difficult music. It must also be said that in no small measure the recording contributes to the mesmerizing effect. Cpo achieves a sound for Korstick’s Steinway Model D that complements its overtones with undertones, providing a bass so deep that it seems to originate from within some circle of Dante’s Hell.
The booklet note speaks of Liszt’s final symphonic poem,
From the Cradle to the Grave
, in reference to the five pieces that fill out the disc, but except for the first of them,
, which Liszt cannibalized from his orchestral work and dedicated to his pupil Arthur Friedheim, there’s all grave and no cradle in the rest of them.
Liszt and Jewish Hungarian composer Mihály Mosonyi, born Michael Brand, were close friends, and when Mosonyi died in 1870, Liszt wrote an in memoriam to him titled
Mosonyi’s Funeral Procession.
Visiting Wagner in Venice in 1882, Liszt noted his host’s declining health. It was Liszt’s premonition of Wagner’s approaching death that prompted the first version of
La Lugubre Gondola
, a piece for solo piano in 6/8. Three years later, Liszt revised the piece, altering its meter to 4/4. It’s this later version, the one Kortstick plays on the disc, that came to be titled
La Lugubre Gondola
Upon Wagner’s death in 1883, Liszt offered his musical memorial to his friend in the short piece titled
At the Grave of Richard Wagner
, presented on the German composer’s would-have-been 70th birthday.
Among Liszt’s very late piano pieces is the
Funeral Prelude and Funeral March
, written in 1885, the year before his own death. It stands as one of the most harmonically advanced and daring works in his entire output. It is essentially without tonality, its first section based on an artificial descending scale repeated six times. The second section, based on an ostinato figure of F-F?-G-B?-C?, is repeated 75 times during the course of the march; and, as if coming full circle, the last four notes of the sequence are borrowed from Mosonyi’s piano piece
Lamentations on the Death of István Széchényi.
In my aformentioned review of Haiou Zhang’s Liszt recital, I confessed that Liszt was not, and never has been, one of my favorite composers. But Korstick’s new release has had a dispositive effect on me, for beyond the pianist’s superlative playing and cpo’s phenomenal recording, it has caused me to reassess my own opinion and attitude toward Liszt in a much more favorable light. If Korstick can do that for me, heretofore a Liszt doubter, imagine what it can do for the Liszt believer. This may be the best piano disc of the year. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Michael Korstick may not be a colorist or poetic aristocrat on the level of other pianists who've recorded the second book of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage memorably, yet his intense, purposeful playing reveals a strong interpretive point of view that compels you to listen. He sustains Il Penserioso's slow tempo with subtle inflections of the right hand's dotted rhythms and by giving the rolled left-hand chords their full due. The boisterous, extroverted Canzonetta Del Salvator Rosa markedly contrasts with the relatively contained and refined interpretations that Jorge Bolet and Muza Rubackyté deliver.
In Korstick's hands, the three Petrarca pieces emerge more urgently and dynamically charged than usual, with lots of inner-voice activity. However, for sheer technical aplomb, Korstick's treatment of the Dante Sonata's climactic pages recalls the kinetic impact of Lazar Berman's pulverizing octaves.
Korstick's lyrical side considerably opens up in terms of phrasing and tone projection in the five late-period pieces, imparting a welcome tender quality to the music's generally sparse and bleak countenance. You especially notice this in the Wiegenlied, La lugubre gondola No. 2's animated central section, and in the Trauermarsch's fragile last pages. A release well worth the attention of any self-respecting Liszt acolyte.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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