Chopin: Ballade No. 1; Ballade No. 2; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Grande polonaise; Andante spianato; Polonaise-fantaisie, Op. 61

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Ballade No. 1; Ballade No. 2; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Grande polonaise; Andante spianato; Polonaise-fantaisie, Op. 61
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1160
Here is the perfect opportunity to compare this lionised youth with another, Evgeny Kissin. The results are distinctly worrying.

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Kempf is good at picking out inner voices (eg, in the Grande polonaise’s coda) and when he allows simplicity of statement its head, as in the second theme of the First Ballade or the Polonaise-fantaisie’s central section, there are occasional beautiful moments. But Kissin evokes intense poetry on an epic, tragic, Shakespearian scale; there is infinite air and spaciousness around the music, allowing it to breathe and flower in all its glory. Kempf sounds incapable of this.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason in his approach to Chopin’s architecture. Climaxes are poorly paced or roller-skated over. There’s no sense of unfolding poetic story in the opening pages of any of the Ballades – instead, an overpressed, monochrome, underlying unease, as if Kempf is about to leave for the airport. So, on emotional maturity and understanding, whether of passion or structural logic, he scores zero. Moreover, his tonal range is restricted to a handful of repetitive primary colours (note Kissin’s richness of palette). Worst of all, whenever a passage can be played loud and fast, he charges through it like the proverbial bull in the china shop with horrible harshness of sound – the stabbing touch in the Second Ballade’s closing pages is particularly hideous. Indeed, much of the disc is simply a bashfest. Is this really the genius set to lift British pianism out of the doldrums? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Jessica Duchen