Freddy Kempf

Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Etudes, Op.25

Freddy Kempf (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 19 March, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

At present Freddy Kempf is featuring the Chopin Etudes in his concert schedule and here he coupled the Opus 25 set with two of the best known of Beethoven’s sonatas. The ‘Moonlight’ opened with a very rich and romantic tonal palette and the use of extensive rubato; however there was no variation in the strength of the left-hand and no sense of questioning, which all great performances of this movement uncover. The Allegretto was over-pedalled and rhythmically unsubtle and the finale – while Presto – was blurred by lack of rhythmic variety and too-thick textures.

At the start of the Appassionata, the first subject was heavily pedalled and the fortissimo chords were too loud. Kempf’s phrasing of the second subject sounded precious and unidiomatic and the development had little sense of remorseless logic and inevitability. In the Variations the theme was undefined and there was no suggestion of quiet strength and spirituality. Nor was there any feeling of inexorability leading to the stupendous outburst of energy in the finale. This last movement highlighted all of the aspects of Kempf’s Beethoven which worried me – too much pedal, the repeated use of stabbing rhythmic emphasis rather, explosive left-hand chords which unbalanced the sound, and an inability to mould phrases in a memorable and echt-Beethoven manner. I was constantly reminded of Macbeth: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

One might have thought that this explosively romantic approach would better suit Chopin, but it didn’t. These great Studies are studies in legato, rhythm, phrasing and texture and require a multi-faceted approach to recreate their immense diversity. Kempf ranged from uninteresting to pounding aggression. In No.1 the melodic line was evened out with very soft fingering, in No.2 the cross rhythms lacked clarity, and the staccato effects of No.4 were blurred. A foursquare approach prevailed. The final three études provide a massive peroration and Kempf attacked them in a ferocious manner. Once more, massively unsubtle left-hand chords, pounding rhythms, no true legato phrasing (even in the central episode of No.11) and a refusal to differentiate between f and fff, and too much pedal. It seemed that Kempf was actually revelling in pianistic affects rather than seeking to delve beneath the surface of these pieces.

He gave a Chopin Mazurka – smooth and unmemorable – and the last two of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition as encores. The latter was massive, Kempf again pounding the piano; as with the rest of the recital there was no subtlety.

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