Author Topic: Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven  (Read 7582 times)

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Offline Todd

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Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven
« on: February 02, 2013, 06:32:37 AM »



   


   



A couple more new, or at least new-ish, complete cycles, one from Germany and one from Japan. 

Korstick first.  I first got two volumes from his cycle a few years back, and I decided to wait for the complete cycle before splurging.  His playing was technically superb, though the sound was a bit metallic, and I wasn’t wowed.  Well, pretty much the same thing holds for the cycle as a whole, though listening to all the works shows Mr Korstick to be a bit better than the two volumes indicated.

Korstick’s approach is one of the more consistent out there, I must say.  He deploys his formidable technique without flash, but it’s clear he can play everything anyway he so chooses, and quite easily at that.  And what he wants is to play fast movements very fast and slow movements very slow.  This approach reaches its climax with Op 106, which opens with a blazing fast, proper tempo, nine-ish minute first movement that never sounds rushed or strained at all, and has at its center a monstrously long slow movement.  It’s not bad, but it’s not great.  For a long, slow adagio, Gilels or Eschenbach seem more the way to go, at least for me.  This highly contrasted tempo approach is standard throughout, and has largely predictable results.  In the fast opening to all manner of sonatas – eg, a vibrant, slightly cutting Op 7, a forceful Op 10/1, a thundering Op 57 – Korstick does not disappoint.  The slow movements are more variable in effect and quality.  I could have used a bit more, what, depth, beauty, insight in some of the slow movements?  And I can’t say that the late sonatas end up being world beaters.  That written, the critical Op 31 trio turns out very well, if perhaps the outer sonatas are a bit on the stern side.  Op 28 still seems to lack that something special, and some of the earlier sonatas are perhaps a bit too intense, but overall there are no real clunkers, and quite a few good things to hear.  Korstick’s cycle is very serious, and in many ways it reminds me of Gerhard Oppitz’s cycle in its seriousness and penchant for quick tempi, and in its less than perfect modern sound.  A middle of the road cycle interpretively for me, then, but one I will gladly return to in order to hear effortless playing with massive dynamic range.

Yusuke Kikuchi offers a bit more.  Like Korstick, Kikuchi generally favors swift tempi in quick movements, but he also tends to favor swift tempi during slow movements through much of the cycle.  Also like Korstick, Kikuchi has a most impressive technique.  A monster technique, really.  The young-ish man plays even the most challenging passages with ease, a vast dynamic range, and a superb independence of hands, with uncommon left hand clarity and weight.  Many times he reminded me of David Allen Wehr in this regard, but Kikuchi is more subtle and nuanced in how he plays the bass lines.  From the first notes of the energetic, and suitably fresh Op 2 and Op 10 sonatas, complete with a 10/3 slow movement that gains intensity from its fast delivery, right up to the cusp of the late sonatas, with wonderfully virtuosic but never overdone “Monumental”* sonatas – eg, Opp 53 and 57 – Kikuchi never misses.  The critical Op 31 are superb across the board.  Even the little Op 49 works are quite something.  They remain small, youthful works, but Kikuchi’s delivery, especially of the second sonata, and then the second movement, sheds new light on these little gems.

The late sonatas almost sound like a different pianist in some ways.  Oh, sure, there are flashes of brilliant, potent, fast playing, as in Op 109, or the gorgeous, nuanced trills in 111, but Kikuchi goes for something more than speed.  Op 106 is taken at a conventional pace, but sounds uncommonly “orchestral”, and the finale is uncommonly clear, for instance.  All six of the sonatas from Op 90 on have a weightiness and depth differentiating them from what came before, as the pianist almost certainly intended. 

As to sound, well, there’s great news, and not so great news.  The second and third volumes are possibly the finest sounding recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas I’ve ever heard.  The first volume – Monumental – seems slightly excessive in the lower registers, though that could also be the instrument used.  The final volume of the late sonatas displays the same trait, though to a lesser extent, and also has a slightly different perspective.  Nonetheless these were a pleasure to listen to from an aural perspective.

As is my wont, I couldn’t help but compare Kikuchi first to other Japanese pianists I’ve heard, and to all other cycles.  To the former, Kikuchi is right up there with Takahiro Sonoda, and probably even better overall.  His technique is better, and if he doesn’t scale the heights in the late sonatas as well, he comes close enough.  (I recently relistened to Sonoda’s Op 111 on Denon, and must say that I now find it among the finest ever recorded, and if ever I can make it through all 90+ versions of 111 weighing down my shelves, I’ll have an even better idea just how good it is.) Kikuchi’s may be the best Japanese cycle.  Among the broader market, Kikuchi’s is extremely fine overall, and among cycles from this century, one of the best.  Only Lucchesini and Guy (from the two volumes out now) are better among the Here-And-Now sets.  It’s a real find.  I may very well give his Diabellis a shot.



* Like HJ Lim, Kikuchi’s cycle is in four two-disc volumes, each given a name.  But Kikuchi’s set uses names like Beethoven Debut, Monumental, Fantasia, and Ultima.  You know, names that make sense.  Really, it’s a shame that of the two Northeast Asian pianists with luxurious heads of hair who recently recorded all or most Beethoven sonatas, it’s the decidedly less talented pianist who got to record for a major label.
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Offline Oldnslow

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Re: Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2013, 10:45:15 PM »
Todd--have you investigated the sonata Beethoven series by Igor Tchetuev on Caro Mitis ( available at ArkivMusik) yet? It's up to volume 6 so far. Pretty impressive in my view, and superb recordings.

Offline Todd

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Re: Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2013, 06:49:01 AM »
Todd--have you investigated the sonata Beethoven series by Igor Tchetuev on Caro Mitis ( available at ArkivMusik) yet?



Not yet.  I'm going to wait until the cycle is done, then buy the whole thing.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Toccata&Fugue

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Re: Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2017, 11:09:59 AM »
I just received my copy of Kikuchi's "Ultima" set. My, very impressive playing (such clarity and sensitivity, yet powerful where it needs) and superb sound. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I have Korstick's complete set. While he might be a touch more dramatic here and there, he's less poetic and his sound is more metallic than Kikuchi's.

Online Mandryka

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Re: Michael Korstick and Yusuke Kikuchi Play Beethoven
« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2019, 12:16:49 AM »
There may be more to Kosrtick than I thought, at least if the variations in op 109 is anything to go by.
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