Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 109-11

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 109-11
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1120
For a pianist still in his early twenties to embark on the spiritual journey of the last three Beethoven sonatas is nothing if not a bold venture, and for all the beauty of Freddy Kempf’s playing it is difficult not to feel that he would have been better advised to wait a few years before committing his thoughts on this profound music to the permanence of a recording. There is no denying the warmth of Kempf’s tone and the musicality of his phrasing in the variation finale of Op. 111, yet to listen to this piece in the hands of such more seasoned players as Brendel or Richard Goode, both of whom adopt a considerably slower tempo, is to experience a much more profound sense of other-worldly calm. Kempf has, too, a tendency to smooth over the dynamic contrasts that are such an integral part of Beethoven’s style, and the crescendo in the variation theme’s second half and the strong accent in its final bar, both so vital to the melody’s character, are entirely missing.

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Kempf is very impressive in the arioso and fugue of Op. 110; but its scherzo middle movement, taken at a surprisingly steady speed, is sadly lacking in quirkiness and humour. As for Op. 109, its wonderful variation theme is disappointingly prosaic, with a rather plodding left hand, and the dynamic nuances of the melody’s first half once again all but ignored. For a real feeling of tenderness in this piece, and a glowing mezza voce tone, Goode is again unsurpassed in my experience. Misha Donat