Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach etc,Rachmaninov,Ravel,Stravinsky
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42; Stravinsky: Three Movements from Petrushka; JS Bach: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for violin, BWV 1004 (arr. Busoni); Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)

Freddy Kempf has long since established his international credentials, but I did not feel that this new recital added much to the lustre of his reputation, some brilliant playing notwithstanding. The resonant ambience of the recording gives Kempf’s statement of the theme of Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations a rather ecclesiastical air, and this is if anything a rather solemn reading, becoming grim and hard-driving in some of the more bravura variations. Certainly it is frequently exciting in sheer physical impact, but I miss the warmth the work should have. The high point of the disc is probably Kempf’s account of the Bach-Busoni D minor Chaconne, which is finely shaped and intensely felt. Kempf’s pedalling here is impeccable.
The Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales strikes me as a fairly small-scale reading with some wonderfully delicate playing (such as in the ‘Modéré’) and a fine sense of style, but also a somewhat splashy virtuosity that carries over into the final item, Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. Though this is a colourful and enjoyable account, well-characterised and full of dynamic contrast, I do not feel it equals some other recent interpretations – by Peter Hill (Naxos), Evgeny Kissin (RCA) or Yuja Wang (DG) – for humanity and interpretative subtleties. A mixed bag, therefore, though fans of Kempf need have no qualms about acquiring this release. Calum MacDonald