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Michael Korstick Ludwig van Beethovern: Piano Sonatas Vol. 5 OC 618 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 618
Release date03/11/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van

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      Sonate Nr. 11 op. 22
      Sonaten Nr. 19 op. 49/1 & Nr. 20 op. 49/2
      Sonaten Nr. 13 op. 27/1 &
      Nr. 14 op. 27/2 “Mondscheinsonate”
      Michael Korstick, Klavier

      Few interpretations of Beethoven have been so highly acclaimed as Michael Korstick’s sonata recordings. His radical version is stirring up a storm in the establishment and has provoked lively debate. Korstick insistently demonstrates that absolute faithfulness to the notes doesn’t have to lead to a bloodless impersonal rendering. Years of intensive work on the piece and surviving documents of the Bonn master led Michael Korstick to an exemplary and personal interpretation of this important and genre-defining piano cycle of the classical epoch.

      Surprise factor 120

      Astonished readers of Michael Korstick’s biography often ask the pianist about the fact that his repertoire includes the unbelievable number of a good 120 works for piano and orchestra. His ironic answer, “one has to begin early”, only scratches the surface of things.

      Everything began with a record containing Mozart‘s Piano Concerto in D Minor that the 11-year-old received as a birthday present. A few weeks later, the boy’s piano teacher could hardly get over her amazement when the youngster (who had recently won First Prize in a “Jugend musiziert” music competition performing short pieces by Bach and Schubert) came to lesson announcing that he had a surprise for her and sat down to play the entire solo part of the above-mentioned Mozart piano concerto – by heart. Only a short time later the same scene repeated itself – this time with Beethoven’s Concerto in C Major.

      Six years (and several surprises) later, Korstick’s first professional teacher, Jürgen Troester, was the stunned victim of a similar “surprise”: at the end of summer 1972, Korstick played for him as an “encore” to the assigned Mozart piano concertos K. 459 and 491 both of Brahms’ piano concertos!

      Shortly after his 19th birthday, Korstick proudly told his mentor Günter Wand that he had for the first time performed a piano concerto with the university orchestra. Upon Wand’s polite question, “What did you play – a Mozart concerto?”, he could only meet Korstick’s reply “No, Brahms’ Bflat” with a surprised “I’ll be damned!”.

      When Michael Korstick studied at the Juilliard School in New York, won his first competitions and started receiving first concert offers, his teacher Sascha Gorodnitzki was also not exempted from certain “surprises”. After Korstick had brought Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in B-flat Minor unannounced to a lesson, Gorodnitzki proclaimed it “not bad at all” – for him, a higher form of praise. But Gorodnitzki was even more amazed when his pupil told him somewhat conscience-stricken that he had learned and already performed the piece a few days earlier as the result of a lastminute concert offer. He had concealed this from his teacher in order to avoid the prohibition of the risky gamble he knew he certainly would have received from Gorodnitzki.

      At the end of Korstick’s studies, his repertoire already included 59 piano concertos – with the consequence that at first, no one believed him when the German Music Council published its list of artists and their repertoire (including prizewinner Korstick). But fate ended up as the judge: the pianist’s numerous last-minute engagements – some literally overnight – allowed him to prove his case and quickly gave him the reputation of a “fire extinguisher”. The steadily growing number of orchestral appearances then led to a constant expansion of Korstick’s repertoire.

      When asked whether he has a photographic memory, however, Korstick says no. In spite of this, his quick intellectual grasp has enabled him to learn pieces like Schubert/ Liszt’s Wanderer-Fantasie, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 4 or Szpilman’s Concertino within only a few days and then perform them with orchestra. What is it about the literature for piano and orchestra that fascinates him so much? His answer: “Actually, I’m just a frustrated conductor…”

      A New Era With his Sonata in B-Flat Major op. 22, written at the threshold to a new century (the work was composed in 1799/1800), Beethoven once again sums up his previous achievements in the sonata genre. On the surface, the piece may be reminiscent of the Sonata op. 7, but this time, Beethoven treads completely new paths. He greatly treasured this composition (“This sonata is a bombshell, my dear brother!”) and demanded the exorbitant sum of twenty guilders from his publisher for it. In comparison, at only ten guilders, the Piano Concerto in B-Flat Major was a bargain.

      How does this fit together with the fact that op. 22 is one of the most seldom performed works in this sonata cycle, or the fact that it is politely described in the literature as “atypical” and less politely as “dull”? Does this perhaps have to do with the somewhat austere appearance of the score? Could conventional performance tradition have distorted our perception?

      The fact is that Beethoven almost demonstratively did without all external glamour; this piece contains none of the displays of skill that so deviated from the norms of the day and which were by now expected standard for Beethoven’s works. What stands out in the first movement is that all of the material is based on broken triads and that the harmony often remains unchanged over a number of measures. And only when the performer takes Beethoven’s tempo marking “Allegro con brio” literally, these spacious progressions sound both purposeful and logical due to the unleashed motoric energy. But Beethoven has larded the movement with such technical difficulties that the “brio” is often unavoidably watered down to an “Allegretto” in order to make the movement playable at all. The second movement also poses problems, this time however, of the opposite nature. The seldom- found 9/8-meter and the tempo “Adagio con molta espressione” demands of the performer both a perfect legato as well as the ability to maintain an atmospheric inner tension. If this movement is accelerated – as so often happens – to become virtually a movement in 3/4-meter with triplet accompaniment, the almost mystical modulations in the middle section remain superficial; entire sections sink into banality. Just as the Minuet and its baroque-style Trio, the Finale – which avoids all superficial effects – also requires the performer to combine intellect and temperament to achieve the desired effect. Beethoven knew what he was talking about – and what was “possible” on an instrument interested him less and less.

      Both of the short sonatinas owe their 1805 publication under the belated opus number 49 to the desire of Beethoven’s brother for profit. He had secretly sold these pieces, which the master had composed between 1795 and 1797 for teaching purposes, to the “Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie”. This betrayal would literally lead to physical violence between the brothers. Even if one considers the sonatinas to be foreign bodies in the series of “valid” sonatas, they do show the imaginative flights of fancy to which Beethoven was capable while at the same time restricting the deployed means to the greatest extent possible.

      Although Beethoven’s manuscript of the Sonatina in G Minor contains dynamic and other performance markings, these are completely missing in the Sonatina in G Major. For his recording, Michael Korstick obtained inspiration from an edition published in 1833 by Haslinger.

      With the Sonata in A-Flat Major op. 26, Beethoven entered completely new compositional territory. This is why the work is often cited as the start of his middle period. Beethoven purposely entitled both of the following sonatas op. 27 “Sonata quasi una fantasia”, certainly in order to make it clear to audiences that listening to these works with traditional expectations would only lead them astray. The rigidity of contemporaneous expectations is demonstrated by a chapter of the “Historisches Taschenbuch” for 1802 that contains notes on the Sonatas op. 26 and 27. These refer to the “dissatisfaction” of “impartial music-lovers with Beethoven’s newest works for piano, [because the listeners] perceive a conspicuous striving for unusualness and originality that too often sacrifices beauty.”

      The Sonata in E-Flat Major op. 27 No. 1 no longer relies on sonata form at all. The first movement is reminiscent of a an improvisation in five sections. It consists of an Andante that appears three times, differently ornamented upon each presentation. These main sections are interrupted by two episodes, the second of which (Allegro, C major) provides for florid contrast. The second movement is neither Scherzo nor Minuet, but introduces an element of the fantastic: the outer sections seem to come from the world of an E.T.A. Hoffmann, while the middle section, located where one would expect a trio, has a character that tends towards the scherzo. The final movement begins with an adagio-section in A-flat major that flows without pause into the contrapuntal “Allegro vivace”. The supposed climax of this section breaks off with a dominant seventh chord; the Adagio appears in shortened form once again only to be followed by a short Presto that reduces the finale’s main theme to its intervallic structure and brings the work to a stormy conclusion. It is certainly logical to conclude that Beethoven’s concept for his Sonata in A-flat Major op. 110 goes back to the basic idea for this fantasia-sonata.

      The fact that the Sonata in C-Sharp Minor op. 27, No. 2 has become just as much a “mega-hit” as the Pathétique op. 13 may well be due to the fact that its three movements have such a strongly unified character that they allow for any possible extramusical or poetic interpretation. One need only think about Liszt’s word concerning the “flower between two abysses” or even about Ludwig Rellstab’s essay from 1832 in which he describes feeling reminded by the first movement of the moonlight reflected in the ripples of Lake Lucerne. And this became the sonata’s fate. Thirty years after its composition, it received the Biedermeier label from which it would never again free itself.

      What would Beethoven have thought about this? One needn’t speculate long; he often showed annoyance during his lifetime that the popularity of this piece – possibly due to the avoidance of contrast within the individual movements – went at the expense of other more complex works. It is perhaps the feeling of having written a sonata that was highly popular for all the wrong reasons that moved him to his badtempered pronouncement “I have certainly written better things!” But today’s listeners may enjoy the fact that Beethoven unknowingly proved that even the most demanding work of art can become a popular success when it is accessible both at the emotional as well as the analytical level.
      Sascha Selke
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
        Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major op. 22
        • 1.Allegro con brio06:52
        • 2.Adagio con molta espressione09:55
        • 3.Minuetto03:21
        • 4.Rondo. Allegretto06:11
      • Sonata No. 19 in G minor op. 49/1
        • 5.Andante04:18
        • 6.Rondo. Allegro03:04
      • Sonata No. 20 in G major op. 49/2
        • 7.Allegro, ma non troppo04:25
        • 8.Tempo di Minuetto03:05
      • Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major op. 27/1
        • 9.Andante – Allegro – Tempo I05:27
        • 10.Allegro molto e vivace01:43
        • 11.Adagio con espressione – Allegro vivace – Tempo I – Presto08:43
      • Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor op. 27/2 “Moonlight”
        • 12.Adagio sostenuto07:17
        • 13.Allegro02:11
        • 14.Presto06:46
      • Total:01:13:18