Notes and Editorial Reviews
WILHELM KEMPFF: PIANO RECITAL 1962
Wilhelm Kempff (pn)
HÄNSSLER 93.720 (65:54) Live: Schwetzingen 5/11/1962
Les trois mains. Le rappel des oiseaux.
Le carillon de Cithère.
Menuett in g.
Piano Sonata No. 22 in F,
Piano Sonata in a,
Impromptu in G?,
Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) had one of the longest and most respected careers of any pianist in the 20th century. Studying first with his father, a noted organist, he eventually entered the Berlin Hochschule für Musik when he was nine years old, studying not only piano but composition as well—the former with Heinrich Barth, the latter with Robert Kahn. He continued his education in Potsdam at the Viktoriagymnasium before finishing his studies in Berlin at the Hochschule; he also at this time enrolled at University. Centering mostly on the Austro-German repertoire throughout his career, the pianist here delights with some rarities as well.
The program starts with a small set of baroque pieces. Kempff’s Rameau eschews the virtuosic aspects of the music. In his hands the opening
Les trois mains
resembles more of a lyrical prelude than a technical display piece, despite its numerous hand crossings and fast scalar passages.
Le rappel des oiseaux
is rather muted in quality. The pianist creates an almost organ-like sonority here. In Couperin’s
Le carillon de Cithère
Kempff produces a wonderful and appropriately bell-like sound, each note crisp and rounded in tone. The effect is of utmost simplicity. Throughout the aforementioned compositions, it is almost as though he is playing a different instrument for each work, so in-tune is he with all of their individual characters. This leads the way for an extremely meditative and flowing rendition of Handel’s little G-Minor Menuett. Kempff here betrays his 19th-century upbringing with his highly romanticized approach. The Mozart—or what musicologists now believe is a spurious work—again brings back the simplicity of the Couperin. One notes especially the pianist’s
playing here: Each phrase is as carefully shaped at this delicate dynamic as it is at the loudest ones. The Beethoven Sonata contrasts well with the non-Mozart in this performance, as Kempff brings out the lyrical qualities of the work’s first movement; rather than a forceful and energetic minuet, as many performers see the composition, the pianist here views the work as one of Beethoven’s most intimate. The finale has fire and energy galore, yet never does it lose its lyrical qualities, its quiet nobility. The Schubert Sonata is less successful. The A-Minor Sonata, like virtually all of Schubert’s works, has a vein of the song running through it. In those moments of hushed reflection, the pianist is most successful, but in the more virtuosic moments his sound can be brittle. But credit where credit is due: Kempff does maintain a wonderful lilt in certain moments in the slow movement’s numerous variations, one which is perfectly attuned to Schubertian style. The G?-Major Impromptu is tenderly conceived—its beautiful opening melody is delicately balanced and elegantly shaded against the rolling accompaniment beneath it.
Though taped in 1962, the sound on the present disc is better than average for its time: The sound is vibrant and resonant, though never overly so, and the audience is hardly detectable. Those moments when Kempff truly makes time stop—and there are many of those in this recital—are magical. For those die-hard fans, this recording is a must, but for those out there who have never warmed to the pianist especially, there is no better place to find all of those enchanting qualities for which he was held up, in varied repertoire, all together in one neat little package than here. Kempff in concert is a far different beast than in the recording studio. If one has not experienced this, then one is missing a tiny portion of musical heaven in one’s life.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Works on This Recording
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