Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3; Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 14

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3; Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 14
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano); Bergen PO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1820

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With this disc, Freddy Kempf shoots straight into the top ten of Prokofiev interpreters. His Third Concerto has personality to match Martha Argerich, William Kapell, Evgeny Kissin and indeed the composer in his own recording. And what a true partnership it is, too, with Andrew Litton and the ever-waxing Bergen Philharmonic, reflected in an ideal recorded balance.

For a snapshot of the essence, I’d hone in on two of the central movement’s variations: the third with cellos and basses digging beneath the piano in supremely vivid fashion, the fourth retreating mesmerisingly into the world of dreams. The duality is present from the start, Litton giving clarinets all the space they need for their wistful song before letting the timpani power the ensuing allegro with plenty of string definition in harum-scarum semiquavers. Kempf keeps it all spruce and plays it relatively straight. Any liberties of tempo, in fact, come from the conductor, in the interests of nuance (especially in the pointing of the central gavotte theme). The big Rachmaninov tune in the finale is appropriately grand in the soloist’s hands and orchestrally lush.

Yet the real inspiration of Kempf’s programming is to follow a spaciously monstrous Second Piano Concerto with the near-contemporary (1912) Second Piano Sonata. Here, too, the seriousness is surprising: no adolescent flesh-creep but a genuine philosophical reflection which puts a relatively early work up there with the later so-called War Sonatas (Nos 6-8).

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I’d be equally happy to hear the same team record Prokofiev’s last two concertos with the Fifth Sonata in between, or for that matter to hear much more of Kempf in the concert hall. It’s his force as well as his imagination that we need to hear in Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov concertos. David Nice