FRANCK Piano works (Michael Korstick)
On the surface, Michael Korstick’s interpretation of Franck’s Prélude, choral et fugue is a model of control and forethought, with the piano-writing’s frequently thick textures resonating with fullness and clarity. In the Prelude Korstick sometimes undermines the change of character when new themes appear. For example, the chordal theme that more decidedly manifests itself in the Fugue (41 seconds into track 1) seems a tad held back in regard to Franck’s a capriccio directive, which Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi (Decca) strikingly animates. On the other hand, Korstick voices the movement’s imitative sequences to three-dimensional effect. If the Chorale’s majestic rolled chords don’t match Sviatoslav Richter’s transluscent shimmer, Korstick grabs your attention through his keen attention to inner voices and his shaping of the bass lines. Wide dynamic contrasts and discreet tenutos give both contour and continuity to the Fugue, even if Korstick’s tone becomes monochrome in the music’s loudest moments (something I often notice in his recordings).
Korstick’s opening movement of the Prélude, aria et final is one of the finest on record, with its fluid and flexible maestoso pace and delightfully ‘old school’ balancing of chords. The pianist’s use of colour and rubato highlights the tension and release of the music’s restless harmonic wanderlust, as well as circumventing its potential for bombast. However, Korstick’s virtuoso command of the third movement’s interlocking passages and stamina-challenging octaves doesn’t quite match Stephen Hough’s supple scintillation (Hyperion, 4/97).
Alfred Cortot’s solo-piano recasting of Franck’s Violin Sonata largely leaves the original scoring intact, save for several unavoidable register changes. As a consequence, the pianist must do the work of two people, particularly in the second movement, where the swirling piano part can potentially engulf the violin melody. Korstick plows through the music like a horse wearing blinders, in contrast to the cleaner textural differentiation of He Yue (Grand Piano) and Yukie Nagai (BIS). The latter pianists prove suaver and more straightforward in the finale, although Korstick’s expressive touches and pronounced separation of lines minimise the keyboard layout’s occasional piles of clutter. For the most part, the strong and sometimes overheated personalities of Franck the composer and Korstick the pianist suit each other well.