Beethoven’s “Eight” Piano Concertos according to Michael Korstick

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) : Concertos for Piano and Orchestra No. 0 WoO4, No. 1 on. 15, no. 2 op. 19, no. 3 op. 37, no. 4 op. 58, no. 5 op. 73 “Emperor”, no. 6 H 15 and no. 7 op. 61a from the Violin Concerto. Michael Korstick, piano; Viennese Radio Symphony Orchestra ORF conducted by Constantin Trinks. 2020/21. Instructions in German and English. 256.10. A set of four CDs CPO 555 447-2.

The pianist Michael Korstick is already the author, on the Oehms label, of a complete set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, which he often played in concert. From the master of Bonn, he now offers at CPO a complete set of “eight” concerts, recorded on a Steinway in three sessions, between December 2020 and March 2021, in the buildings of the ORF Radiokulturhaus in Vienna.

Eight piano concertos, here numbered from 0 to 7. In the beautifully illustrated booklet accompanying this set, a text signed by Charles K. Tomicik evokes comments from Carl Czerny (1791-1857), who benefited from lessons from the composer ofheroic in the very early years of the 19th century, on “the spiritual perception of Beethoven’s compositions”. Czerny didn’t hesitate to open the . to classify Triple Concerto such as “Concerto No. 4” and the piano version of Violin Concerto as number 7. This edition explains the number eight, or rather 0 to 7, by the presence of the WoO4 composed in 1784, which is assigned the number 0, followed by the traditional five, with the number 6 returning to allegro in D H15 (fourteen minutes), written in 1815, and number 7 in the transcription of Violin Concerto. In this presentation, “the bill is good” and gives us a remarkable box of four CDs, of a beautiful aesthetic sensitivity and an attractive musicality.

The publisher wisely opted for a continuity of the first four concertos (op. 15, 19, 37, 58) on the first two CDs, theEmperor following the transcription of Opus 61 for violin to 61a for piano on the third, numbers 0 and 6 occupy the fourth movement. We will emphasize for each of the five usual concerts a great delicate performance, a flexible and loose playing, a subtlety of touch, a fullness of sound and a very certain taste expressed in terms of expressive phrasing, lively rhythms, rubatos mastered and inflections full of freedom that often turns out to be poetic. We enjoy the readability of opus 15 and 19; their character looking to the future is well underlined. Michael Korstick makes a choice from virtuoso cadences that he displays with panache. the Concert No. 3 takes on a frank and clear rhythm that gives it an exciting solemnity (admirable coda of theAllegro with brio initial), while No. 4 is defined in terms of intensity adorned with mystery and elegance. Concerning theEmperor, it is grandiose as expected, but without excess, rather with a devoted nobility that lets the contrasts breathe. Korstick leads the game with deep maturity, we feel that Beethoven is known to him and that he has drawn from his concert experiences the quintessence of a cycle known to him and which he magnifies, supported in his approach by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra , with energy and vivacity led by Constantin Trinks (°1975), who was a student in Hanover of Wolf-Dieter Hauschild (°1937), himself trained by Hermann Abendroth, then by Hermann Scherchen and Sergiu Celibidache. A very suggestive lineage…

Number 0 of this series is assigned to Concerto WoO4 in E flat major which seems to date from 1784, when Beethoven was only 14 years old at the time. An edition was not published until 1890, in a reconstruction of the copy of a version in which the orchestral passages have been reduced, with some indications for the instrumentation, details of which are given in the message. Here a new orchestration was commissioned by the Austrian flutist, musicologist and conductor Hermann Dechant (°1939) who in the final added strings, flutes and horns in pairs, two bassoons and timpani, in imitation of the Concert No. 4. The piano part has not been retouched, except for the introductions and cadence, written by Dechant and judged by Korstick. The general impression is that of a work in which the young composer has incorporated both the Mozartian heritage and that of Bach’s sons well. No. 6, attributed to the 258 bars outside the catalog of 1814/15, dates from the period after the symphonies 7 and 8 and the Sonata No. 27. An unfinished project that in Beethoven’s eyes should undoubtedly become a new concerto, this H15 was reconstructed and completed by the musicologist Nicholas Cook in the mid-1980s; an engraving is made by the German-Japanese pianist Sophie-Mayuko Vetter with the Hamburg Symphony conducted by Peter Ruzicka (Oehms, 2019). Here Hermann Dechant was again summoned for a new cadence and coda, with Michael Korstick giving a public performance at the Ruhr Piano Festival in 2017. WoO4 and H15 should therefore be regarded as discographic premieres in the current version of Dechant, which capture the spirit that Beethovenian universe animates.

There remains the transcription of Violin Concerto, opus 61a, commissioned by Muzio Clementi in 1807, and published the following year, along with the original. Michael Korstick approaches it in lively tempos, with a bead play of extreme elegance combined with a controlled sobriety that gives the whole a very seductive range. Much joy goes through this interpretation, especially in the very virtuoso cadence of theAllegro ma non troppo, interrupted by timpani with unexpected sound effects. the big ghetto is a vast space of intense poetic breathing, in which the pianist gives free rein to his imagination and opens the door to a Rondo/Allegro finale, the pleasure of the first surprise being left to the listener. We fully and at all times share the pianist and orchestra’s investment for this transcription, arguably the strongest moment of this project.

In any case, here is an original box set, if not different, in its overall approach. It is produced with a conviction, a vitality and a sound quality that makes it a discographic object of great importance.

Sound: 10 Recording: 10 Repertoire: 10 Interpretation: 10

John Lacroix

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