ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Opp. 13, 27/2, 57
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf
CATALOGUE NO: 1460
From the very first chord of the Pathétique it’s clear that Freddy Kempf has thought long and hard about the music. In place of the usual plain fortissimo attack, he attempts to reproduce Beethoven’s fp marking by swiftly raising and half-lowering the sustaining pedal as soon as the chord has been struck. Like a few pianists before him he also includes the introduction within the movement’s first-half repeat – a controversial procedure, but one that’s musically convincing. It’s in the driving energy of this piece, and in his finely controlled account of the Appassionata’s finale that Kempf shows himself at his best. Elsewhere, the playing is often prone to point-making for expressive effect, where the music would better be left to speak for itself: in the slow movement of both the Pathétique and the Appassionata the coda is sentimentalised; and the heavy ritardando each time the famous Adagio of the Moonlight returns to the home key sounds redundant. There’s a serious miscalculation, too, in the Appassionata’s first movement, where the recapitulation famously begins while a dissonant repeated bass-note is still being sounded. The dramatic effect relies on the preceding tempo being maintained, but Kempf fatally applies the brakes at the crucial point.
All this is a pity, because he is clearly a player of real talent (and his sound is beautifully captured). But if you want Beethoven’s three most popular sonatas on a single disc, Alfred Brendel offers greater insight and cogency. Misha Donat