Notes and Editorial Reviews
Arte Nova has, in recent years, served the public well in recording music by major musicians whose chief role before the public has been that of performer as opposed to composer. Symphonies by Furtwängler and violin works by Artur Schnabel are among their previous releases, but this disc presents two world premiere recordings.
It is interesting to ponder whether any of the composers’ style of playing makes itself felt in the way they write music. In Furtwängler’s case, some evidence of this is possible even when one hears recordings of his own compositions under another conductor’s guidance. Wilhelm Kempff, a pianist whose forte was in the late Classical and Romantic repertoire, is a figure harder to pin down in
those terms, though both works here show definite leanings towards the dreamy world of the Romantics.
The trio dates from 1911, when Kempff was 16, and is a somber piece of tersely wrought arguments between the instruments. As Dieter Schumacher’s brief yet useful notes point out, this was a period of some sadness in Kempff’s life, as he had been thrown out of the Berlin Conservatory for not giving music sufficient dedication. Such reluctance to practice was also evident in later life during his pianistic career. Cast in four movements—Andante, Presto, Moderato, Vivace—the work broodingly considers the emotions of rejection, but, as it progresses, some spirit of defiance or desire to overcome imposed decisions emerges. This is music from a young man saying exactly what he thinks of authority. The recording is close and rather hard-toned, making the opening movement one that takes determination to stay the course. Doing so is worth it, as—in the end—the matter-of-fact recording quality adds to the music.
The quartet presents a more genial face overall. Kempff collapsed during a piano tour of Sweden in 1919–1920. Queen Victoria of Sweden, present at the scene, referred Kempff to a doctor living on Capri. During his enforced island sojourn, Kempff grew to love Italianate sounds; he captures their distant perfumes in this quartet. But this is far from all one hears, as the second movement is based on a Swedish folk-song variation and the finale showcases a catchy tarantella. With moments of darkness behind him, this is music filled with pure air and light. The lines of the flute and violin in particular make one aware of this. So does the clarity of touch he requires in the piano part, in marked contrast to the earlier trio. The recording accords the music ample spaciousness. The players of both works, all members of the Camerata Academica or Mozarteum orchestras in Salzburg, acquit themselves with confidence and musicality.
Might Arte Nova yet round out the picture we have of Kempff the composer by bringing us some songs, or his piano and violin concertos, maybe even his most successful opera, The Gozzi Family? I do hope so. This release is a recommendable introduction to an involving compositional voice.
FANFARE: Evan Dickerson
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