Freddy Kempf performs Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: The Seasons; Grand Sonata in G
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS BIS 2140 (hybrid CD/SACD)

Advertisement

This was a comparative review between Freddy Kempf and Lang Lang's recordings of 'The Seasons'. To view details of Lang Lang in Paris, click here.

Lang Lang’s album, recorded at the Opéra Bastille’s Salle Liebermann, includes in the deluxe edition a bonus DVD – a taster of the full-length video of his Versailles performance of the same programme. In its short ‘Making of…’ film, Lang Lang claims that Chopin’s Scherzos are ‘more violent’ than Liszt’s music. Certainly he takes this music to extremes, playing Scherzo No. 1’s Presto con fuoco at break-neck speed, though his impeccable fingerwork is up to it; the real problem is when the lightening-fast quavers stop, the music congeals and fatally loses its momentum. Never mind Lang Lang’s cavalier treatment of Chopin’s dynamic markings – if only he showed some sympathy for the music’s bel canto qualities. He is best in the generally sunnier Fourth Scherzo, which manifestly requires, and receives, a lighter touch.

It is frustrating to have to give such a poor report on the Chopin when Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons is given a highly engaging performance. Lang Lang clearly loves this music. Such is its tender songfulness in Lang Lang’s hands and his sensitive response to Tchaikovsky’s harmonies, allowing them room to unfold their own expressive narrative, that one may readily forgive his sometimes overriding written dynamic markings, or his rather stop-start approach to the penultimate Troika.

Freddy Kempf’s performance of The Seasons, in comparison, is disappointing, sounding often wilful in a manner that suggests he does not quite ‘get’ these unpretentious pieces in the way Lang Lang does. Where Lang Lang’s sparkling account of ‘August’ reveals its kinship to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic scherzos, Kempf’s sounds lumbering and discursive. More often, Kempf impatiently hurries the music as if fearing to bore his listeners.

For some reason Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata has become almost a standard coupling with The Seasons. Kempf plays its pompous opening with a rather jolting sense of its rhythm, and his many mannerisms in phrasing breaks one’s appreciation of larger paragraphs, narrowing one’s focus to the commonplace quality of the Sonata’s individual ideas. Of recent alternative recordings, Joseph Moog (on Onyx) is perhaps most eloquent, driving the music in every sense with conviction and using dynamic contrasts to give its narrative a convincing ebb and flow.

Advertisement

Daniel Jaffé