Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pèlerinage II, Deuxieme Année “Italie”, S161/R10b (1849) (Sposalizio [8:23]; Il penseroso [6:01]; Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa [2:32]; Sonetto 47 del Petrarca [5:34]; Sonetto 104 del Petrarca [5:58]; Sonetto 123 del Petrarca [6:55]; Apres une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi una sonata [15:13]) [50:06]
Wiegenlied, S198/R58 (1881) [3:43]
Mosonyi's Grabgeleit, S194/R110 (1870) [6:53]
Am Grabe Richard Wagners, S267/R387 (1883) [3:11]
La lugubre gondola No. 2, S200/R81 (1885) [8:49]
Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch, S206/R83-84 (1885) [6:24]
Michael Korstick (piano)
rec. August 2009; Congress Centrum, Pforzheim, Germany
CPO 777 585-2 [79:56]

Michael Korstick, best known on recordings for his Beethoven sonata cycle, began a Liszt cycle on cpo in 2009 with the first book of the Années de Pèlerinage, Suisse, and the B minor Sonata. I have not heard that disc, but if it is as splendidly played as this one, which features Italie, the second of the three books comprising Années de Pèlerinage, and several late Liszt pieces, it would certainly be a worthwhile acquisition. To give you an idea of Korstick’s style and temperament here, I would say he has a straightforward side like Brendel, a fiery side like Argerich but with a greater sense of control, and a velvety touch like Cliburn. He can seem like all these pianists in the same piece even.

In Sonetto 104 di Petrarca, Korstick begins stormily, and then lowers the temperature to allow the poetry and lyricism of the main theme to simmer to an outpouring of great emotional release. The music then recedes in pitch and melts to a lovely ending. In the leadoff piece, Sposalizio, Korstick’s velvety dynamics work wonders in the rolling right-hand accompaniment near the beginning that eventually grows restless. Also, later on he plays the main theme in deftly hushed tones that so serenely capture its mesmerizingly lonely grandeur.

Italie’s closing piece is the Dante Sonata, a fifteen-minute work mixing diabolical Liszt with lyrical Liszt, flashy Liszt with lovely Liszt. Korstick catches all the moods and when the big octave passages come, the notes dart out at you in a sort of aural 3D, their buzz-saw precision evoking a deliciously appropriate demonic sense.

Wiegenlied usually draws a fine performance from almost any pianist, but here Korstick delivers an account of exceptional gossamer beauty. His Trauervorspiel and Trauermarsch is powerful in its sense of the morbid, with sinister mystery at the outset and an onrush of hysteria later on when the march theme builds overtop an insistent ostinato figure to bring on a crash of epic power. Korstick is consistently engaging in all the other pieces as well.

Other pianists of note in Années de Pèlerinage are Alfred Brendel/Philips, Jerome Rose/Medici Classics and Lazar Berman/DG. All are good but, if I can judge from this single disc, I would prefer Korstick over them owing to his more chameleonic and dynamic manner, which impart more color and a bit more drama to the music. In the late Liszt pieces Leslie Howard, on Hyperion, delivers riveting, if sometimes overheated performances. Korstick probably has the edge here too, although selected late pieces offered by Alfred Brendel on Philips and Arnaldo Cohen on Naxos are also worthy of consideration.

The sound on Korstick’s disc is vivid and the album notes by Charles K. Tomicik are enlightening. Texts for the Petrarc sonnets are included, as well as photographs of the paintings that inspired Liszt in the various Italie pieces. All in all, this is an excellent release.

Robert Cummings

All in all, this is an excellent release.