WORKS: Ein Totentanz; Arcadian Suite; Positano Suite
PERFORMER: Rüdiger Steinfatt (piano)Heinrich Schütz Ensemble, Munich SO/Werner Andreas Albert
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1593-2
This is the same Wilhelm Kempff whose recording of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto sold a quarter of a million copies. His own quirky compositions cannot expect such worldly success. Ein Totentanz – a dance of death – is described as a piano concerto (his second) in suite form. There are nine short movements with classical titles: Gavotte, Intermezzo, Bourrée, and so forth. A solo violin features occasionally, and a male chorus pitches into the finale. There is a certain bleak elegance in the Classically decorated piano part, but it is hindered by an orchestral style that tends to become didactic and clumsy. That said, the sugary Sarabande, if discovered, is sufficiently delicious to become a hit – all two and a half minutes of it.
The two suites combine what the booklet defensively calls a ‘neo-galant’ (as opposed to neo-Baroque) style with a rather drab austerity. The Arcadian has a fragile appeal, with benign pastoral allusions in the woodwind. The Positano, written twenty years later in 1958, is host to sombre string-writing and more than a hint of menace. The Munich SO ably encompasses the many moods of this collection. If the string tone is not as rich as one might expect, this could well be put down to the unfamiliarity of the music. Christopher Lambton