LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Piano Sonata in E minor, D566; Impromptu in A flat, D935/2. Ballades, Op. 10; Romance in F, Op. 118/5; Intermezzo in E flat minor, Op. 118/6; Intermezzo in B flat, Op. 76/4. Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22
PERFORMER: Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4114-2 ADD
Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) was one of the great pianists of the 20th century, revered by leading musicians of his own day and afterwards. He had a long career, and recordings span most of it, but his later studio work – particularly that dating from Sixties and Seventies (such as his Schubert and Schumann compendia for DG, some of the contents of which are on the sedate, even ponderous side) – cannot always explain to the uninitiated what it was that made Kempff so much admired.
This BBC Legends disc does. Two London recitals provide the material: the works by Schubert and Schumann and the Brahms Ballades date from 1972, the rest from three years earlier. The first item, Schubert’s early, unfinished E minor Sonata, displays to perfection the luminous beauty of sound that, when on form, Kempff commanded like few others – the spacious, unforced lyricism, the gift of ‘saying things simply’ while achieving endless subtleties of touch, tone-colour and phrase-articulation.
The 76-year-old Kempff was here on noble form, but in the outer movements of the Schumann Sonata there are finger fumbles, and Schumann’s youthful outpourings don’t possess the romance, let alone spontaneity, passion, energy and drive, that Argerich’s recording (from the same era) brought to them. In Brahms’s shorter pieces, the early Ballades and late Intermezzi, he was a peerless poet, colourist and stylist. To my mind his early-Fifties Ballades recording remains unequalled, but the total of this wonderful CD is very much more than the sum of its parts. The booklet contains a sympathetic, illuminating Kempff appraisal by Bryce Morrison. Max Loppert