Rachmaninoff, Kreisler

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COMPOSERS: Kreisler,Rachmaninoff
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Études-tableaux, Op. 39
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)
Freddy Kempf is a powerfully impressive pianist. As becomes evident from the very outset of the Sonata, he deploys a wide-ranging tonal palette, ranging from delicate pianissimos to a thundering, almost orchestral power at the opposite end of the spectrum, which is nowhere marred by even a hint of banging. He combines admirable attention to detail, whether in matters of articulation or melodic inflection, with a commanding overview of large-scale structure. His rhythm is both strong and supple, integrated and flexible, and he has the benefit of first-rate recorded sound. In this once-neglected sonata, the competition is fierce, and it says a lot for Kempf’s playing of it that one thinks immediately of such recorded alternatives as those by Cliburn, Ogdon, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Fergus-Thompson and Shelley, all of whom, in their different ways, deliver performances which could stand as a benchmark. Nor is he less impressive in the Études-tableaux. Rachmaninoff’s music is notoriously easy to over-dramatise (as Horowitz sometimes did, though usually with electrifying results), but Kempf resists the temptation, without ever sounding frustratingly cautious. All in all, this disc is a winner all the way. Jeremy Siepmann