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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Chopin Freddy Kempf (piano) Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, December 15th, 2003 (CC)



For the last Wigmore Monday lunchtime concert before Christmas, it was left to the young Freddy Kempf to do the honours. Mr Kempf obviously has a fair following, for the house was packed.

After Mitsuko Uchida’s stimulating Beethoven Sonatas over the river at the other end of the weekend [review], it was interesting to hear Kempf in Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata (interestingly, Kempf has put down the last three Beethoven Sonatas for BIS – CD1120 – a disc I have yet to hear). A young man playing a young man’s music should work well, and indeed sforzati were given with a verve and dynamism that spoke clearly of youth. Contrasts were stark, as black as Kempf’s outfit, the speed of the allegro fully ‘molto’. Unafraid of dynamic extremes, this was a performance full of energy. The ‘Grave’ introduction began with a pianistic effect, an attempt to simulate a ‘forte-piano’ dynamic marking on an instrument that usually doesn’t ‘do’ them. It emerged more as a trick than anything, though. The famously restful Adagio cantabile was here an ‘Andante poco cantabile’, with the top line’s legato forced; it was the finale came off best, stormy, very busy and with superb articulation.

The second part of the recital confirmed Kempf’s credentials in Chopin’s music. The Twelve Etudes, Op. 25 began with a slow and languorous A flat study, which interestingly conjured up more disquiet than most. In the faster numbers, there was no doubting Kempf’s prowess. His articulation was spot-on, although he overdid the machine-gun delivery of No. 8 in D flat (the etude on parallel sixths). But there were interpretative holes, the A minor (No. 4) lacking any depth, and it was a pity that the contrastive simple statements that usher in No. 11 in A minor did not throw the ensuing explosion into relief because of Kempf’s over-interpretation. The height of his Op. 25 came with the last, the thicket of semiquavers that is No. 12 in C minor. For once the darkness of the chosen key was realised, over and above any digital dexterity.

Still a young man (he was born in 1977), Kempf gives his all to whatever he plays and there is much to admire. He is not just technique and nothing else, but there is an overriding impression that, musically, all has yet to fully gel. With this in mind, it was a wise choice to plump for one of the more dynamic of Beethoven’s early sonatas. I look forward to hearing his Chopin Etudes (both sets) in another 10-20 years time.

Colin Clarke

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