An upbeat that became a sensation in itself: Michael Korstick’s complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas for OehmsClassics began with the Diabelli Variations. Reviewers were thrilled!
The pianist now continues his Beethoven cycle with Volume 2: The Early Sonatas op. 2 – a recording which will appear as a SACD production. Korstick’s perfectionism in transforming notes into music is supported by recording technology
that reproduces state-of-the-art sound and spatial quality. While the surround-
recording earned unbelievable head-shaking at the beginning of the multi-channel era, even when only one instrument was recorded, it is now uncontested that the five-channel mode has increased sound authenticity sensationally. But even the high-resolution SACD stereo variant ensures a clear plus in terms of sound density and differentiation.Beethoven’s Sonatas op. 2
At the time Beethoven wrote his three sonatas op. 2 in 1795, he had already spent three years in Vienna, the musical centre of the world in his age, and had enjoyed
lessons with Haydn when the latter was at the peak of his career. Before that, he had been taught be Christian Gottlob Neefe in Bonn, had played Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” of which he owned a copy, and gained comprehensive knowledge
of the entire musical repertoire.
Influenced by the liberal Catholicism of the Rhine area and the ideals of the French revolution, he became an enlightened moralist
and stout republican. His arrival in Vienna occurred at a time when musicians began to attempt to emancipate themselves from fixed employment with noble families or the clergy, and regarded their ideal position
as that of a free-lance artist.
Besides possessing talent and letters of recommendation, young Beethoven’s character
was particularly well suited to pursue such a noble aim: self-confidence, charisma, powers of self-assertion and passion (albeit with some choleric features).
In Vienna, Beethoven eventually wrote his first works that he himself regarded as worthy to be published with opus numbers, among them the triad of sonatas op. 2 recorded here. He dedicated them to his teacher Haydn while at the same time radically
emancipating himself from him.
The explosive first movement of the passionate F minor Sonata with the phrase of the “Mannheim rocket” as its principal subject, its rebellious syncopations and unusually spiky accents speaks an entirely new musical language and is a clear indication
of the fact that the musical world shall not be having an easy time with this young genius.
There is no tentative search, no self-tormenting insecurity, no conventional phrase, and no problem of form. We see instead a developed, forceful personality, and the message is: “Here I am, listen to what I have to say!”
In all three sonatas, Beethoven extends the traditional form consisting of three movements to the more symphonic form in four movements, and with perfect mastery
demonstrates the principle underlying his compositions: derivation of the entire musical material in each movement from a single thematic nucleus.
Although each of the three sonatas obviously
has its individual character – the first a flaring temper, the second a playful elegance, the third a concerto-like brilliance – the pieces still have one common characteristic:
the 25-year-old composer skilfully masters the traditional forms, and without openly questioning them, he fills them with new content, his content. An act of subversion?
The immense depth of expression in the slow movements show Beethoven’s overwhelming ability to create soulful singing
tenderness; the feature praised as the hallmark of his own piano playing.
Beethoven opens up the doors to the approaching 19th century with his first sonatas – just as he shall force the form open again with his last sonatas, to show the way towards an even more distant age.
How should a musician of the 21st century
now treat those works in the light of those facts? Michael Korstick mentions that he holds himself “responsible to take these pieces truly seriously.”
Indeed, the history of interpretation shows a clear tendency to either belittle those sonatas under the label of “early works” in classicist style, or to “deprive them of their teeth”, as it were, by an academic
restriction of the expressive range, or else to treat them with irony with a condescending attitude and yield to the temptation of “pointed” play.
And yet, should not the art of interpretation
recreate the extremes of expression and bring them together, trace Beethoven’s character as it manifests itself in his music, and do his different aspects justice, both the composer’s outbursts and rebellions, and his most intimate thoughts and fervent emotions?
Michael Korstick answers this question for himself in such a way that he generates
the conditions necessary for understanding
and grasping of the compositions on an intellectual and emotional level. He achieves this by intensive analysis of the sources and a consequent implementation of all of the composer’s instructions for performance
(while claiming that this is “mere craftsmanship”).
When asked whether adherence to the text could be said to be the key to the interpretation
of Beethoven’s oeuvre, Korstick replies: “Wouldn’t that be nice! But a faithful
rendering of the text is no more than just the foundation on top of which an entire building consisting of sound remains yet to be erected” – and he adds laughingly: “So it’s by no means all. But without it, all is nothing!”
Teile des Textes basieren auf einem
Gespräch des Autors mit Michael Korstick