BBC Legends – Wilhelm Kempff

0 of 5 stars

Sonata in F, K332
Sonata in B flat, D960
Sonata in A, Op.101
Piano Pieces, Op.119 – No.1: Intermezzo in B minor; No.3: Intermezzo in C

Wilhelm Kempff (piano)

Recorded on 7 October 1967 in Whitworth Hall, Manchester University

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2005
BBCL 4169-2
Duration: 78 minutes

A glory of the BBC Legends catalogue is the releases devoted to Wilhelm Kempff. This, I believe, is the fourth such – and it is every bit as inspiring as the previous issues.

The recording used here is taken from a private source, and one wonders if the order of the CD (as detailed) matches that of the recital itself: Mozart and Schubert would have made a long first half, and Beethoven a short second. The Brahms pieces were presumably encores. Whatever, there is much here that is wonderfully illuminating and profound. The Mozart is a tad splashy initially, Kempff’s fingers not always articulate and the pedal action is a tad twangy – but Kempff’s playing has sparkle and nobility. This is real and human music-making with the Adagio gently leant on for full expressive potential and the finale romping home with good nature and shapely phrasing.

It is a performance loaded with significance, as is much of the Schubert. The first movement moves along without indulgence or fluctuation – and without a repeat of the exposition, which Kempff observes on his DG recording – but there is also a quite extraordinary hypnotism about this account that draws the listener in, Kempff addressing the sonata from within and without artifice, and with many subtleties of dynamic, colour and phrase. The Andante sostenuto is a masterclass of rubato and unmannered eloquence, followed by a deft and puckish scherzo that is immaculately voiced. The vigour of the finale has genuine optimism, and if some passages find Kempff ‘at sea’ technically, his identification with, and experience of, the music is always apparent.

The Beethoven has freshness, an ‘ink still wet’ quality that is disarming, and a luminosity that clarifies Beethoven’s intentions without watering down his argument. The scherzo is truculent, the Adagio profound, and the ‘sunrise’ of the finale is brought off with heroism (if not flawlessness) and with a natural curve to the summit. Whether encores or not, the Brahms pieces, one run into the other, are gratefully searched; the gossamer C major Intermezzo, one ham-fisted moment aside, is gently and lightly coaxed – and right up there with Clifford Curzon’s seemingly untouchable Decca studio recording.

Tony Faulkner has very expertly transferred the mono sound, and the sort-of-apology made in the presentation for the reproduction is not really necessary. Faulkner listens to what he does and knows there is a cut-off point before over-zealous re-mastering contaminates music’s ‘true tones’. No such worries here, which is just as well given Kempff’s artistry.

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