Reger: Piano Concerto Op 114; Bach/Busoni: Piano Concerto Bwv 1052 / Korstick, Schirmer, Et Al

Release Date: 4/28/2009
Label: CPO
Catalog Number: 777373-2
Performer: Michael Korstick
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble: Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

REGER Piano Concerto. BACH-BUSONI Keyboard Concerto in d, BWV 1052 Michael Korstick (pn); Ulf Schirmer, cond; Munich RO cpo 777 373 (63:12)

So many factors go into the making of a successful recording! One would think that great artists, committed to the music, would be primary. The classic recording of Reger’s Piano Concerto is by Rudolf Serkin, a committed Regerite if ever there was one, accompanied by no less than the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, on a Columbia stereo LP, later a CBS Masterworks Portrait CD. When that recording proved underwhelming, one’s natural reaction was to give up on the music, and later performances supported that decision. Korstick, Schirmer, and Munich do not suggest comparable levels of quality—or at least of fame; yet right from the opening bars the music grabs our attention, holds it, and satisfies on every count.

So, what happened? First off, spectacular recorded sound brings Reger’s Concerto to life as never before. One’s auditory senses, and that means more than just hearing, immediately leap to attention. I envision ears standing up, hairs on the back of the neck rising, like our dog when a deer appears in the yard. Of course, sheer sound is not enough, and the artists whom I so unthinkingly dissed perform at a high level. The orchestral introduction sings with a white-hot passion not previously realized, and the piano’s entrance bursts upon us like a thunderclap. In Fanfare 32:3, Peter Burwasser admired Korstick’s “muscular virtuosity” in Beethoven sonatas, but decried his “lack of grace.” That sounds like a prescription for Reger’s mighty finger buster, and Korstick delivers big time, maintaining golden tone with no apparent strain, which Serkin—one of my favorite artists—was not able to do. But this Concerto is not all bluff and bluster; it has its tender moments, even in the pugnacious opening Allegro moderato (the moderato is an indication of tempo, not of character). Korstick is reasonably convincing in the brief, calm second theme and its reoccurrences. Although Reger’s notorious harmonic progressions keep this music from sounding like Brahms, that master’s impetuous First Concerto is an obvious influence on this movement.

Korstick is less at home with the second movement, Largo con gran espressione; a few passages become just a series of separate notes, rather than one continuous line. But that happens with Serkin, too, suggesting that we should blame the composer. When the inevitable climaxes arrive, Korstick is back in his element, pouring out cascades of tone. Serkin finds an elfin humor in the Allegretto con spirito finale, which Korstick and Schirmer—at a much slower tempo—miss. They seem to be revisiting the spirit of the opening movement, whereas Serkin is exploring another of Reger’s many facets. If the quality of recorded sound were anywhere near equal, one might prefer Serkin/Ormandy in this movement; but it is not, so it may be best to fall into step with the cpo team and wallow in Korstick’s potent pianism. All of this is not enough to bring Reger’s Concerto up to the level of Brahms, or even Rachmaninoff, but it does turn it into a fascinating, absorbing work.

This Bach-Busoni Concerto is the score that the otherwise incomparable Dinu Lipatti (and many other pianist of his era) played, heard in a 1947 live-performance recording with the Concertgebouw under van Beinum ( Fanfare 24:5, p. 277). Busoni’s concept was the exact opposite of today’s period practice: he added color, fistfuls of extra notes, and much ornamentation to the keyboard part (think Horowitz playing Mussorgsky), and he cut freely, particularly in the finale. Korstick’s interest in the Busoni version comes from his studies at Juilliard, where he met Edward Weiss, a Busoni pupil who played the Concerto under Busoni’s baton. The structure and the familiar themes may be Bach, but this is Busoni we are hearing; given Korstick’s qualities (the good and the bad) that may be just as well. Comparison with Lipatti is difficult: that recording was an amateur one, so distorted that one barely notices that he and van Beinum somehow restored Busoni’s cuts. Lipatti plays with more consistent tempos and a semblance of taste—his Adagio is deeply moving—but he is still far from Bach.

This disc is urgently recommended to Reger fanciers. Others will not care, and probably will not be convinced if they do try it.

FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
1. Concerto for Piano in F minor, Op. 114 by Max Reger
Performer: Michael Korstick (Piano)
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble: Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1910 ; Germany
2. Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, BWV 1052 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer: Michael Korstick (Piano)
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble: Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque
Written: circa 1738-1739 ; Leipzig, Germany
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