LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5
PERFORMER: Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4085-2 ADD
In his admirable booklet notes, Stephen Plaistow, the uncredited producer of this 1969 Queen Elizabeth Hall recording, quotes Alfred Brendel as remarking that ‘when the right wind blew’ Kempff could produce some of the greatest piano-playing he has heard. Judging from this particular concert, the wind must have changed direction during the interval. The Brahms F minor Sonata is disappointingly lacking in the essential elements that go to make up what Schumann described as a ‘veiled symphony’: grandiloquence, drama, tenderness and varied tone-colour. Its central scherzo, played with a pronounced accent on the first beat of every bar, sounds leaden; while the following intermezzo – which recalls the slow movement’s material in the form of a distant funeral march, complete with the sound of muffled drums – needs much more of a sense of mystery.
The Schumann items are on an altogether higher level, with Kempff alive to all the kaleidoscopic shifts of mood in Papillons (the final chimes of six o’clock in the morning, as the revellers disperse, are particularly well handled), and producing an eloquent example of the singing tone for which he was justly renowned in the slow finale of the great C major Fantasy, Op. 17. This disc is worth acquiring for the Schumann alone, though Kempff’s artistry can be heard to greater advantage on an earlier recording from the same BBC series containing music by Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. As for benchmark performances of the Brahms F minor Sonata and the Schumann Fantasy, the classic versions by Clifford Curzon remain deeply satisfying. Misha Donat