> Freddy Kempf plays Beethoven [MB]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: Sonata No.30 in E major, Op.109, Sonata No.31 in A flat major, Op.110, Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111
Freddy Kempff (piano)
recorded in March 2000 at Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm
BIS CD 1120 [63.25]

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This disc and its Chopin companion are both fastidiously played. For all this these are a young man’s first recordings of repertoire to which he will return with greater insight in future years.

The Beethoven sonatas are perhaps the finer recordings. Already in the Op.109 there is a directness to Kempf’s playing and more importantly an understanding of the complex rhythms to the first movement: accents are clearly differentiated in an intelligent way. Nowhere better does he find the right mood and right displacement of note values than in the adagio which here seems dramatic in its sense of scale. The prestissimo has considerable pace, and there is a magical moment at bar 83 where the una corda effects seem as softly played as floating clouds. If technique is more important in Op.109 than in Op.110 the latter requires more mystery. Kempf uses minimal rubato in the first movement, and for this reason the movement has a sensitivity to phrasing and dynamics which lightens the textures. Touch and tone remain beautifully painted – and his pedalling never seems to interfere with the staccato passages. The playing actually moves on inexorably – but there is, as ever with Kempf, a delicacy to what his right or left hand is doing which means a single note or phrase registered piano actually plays that way (the opening of bar 21, for example).

The Op.111 is the most difficult of the late sonatas and if Kempf has the technique for it he sometimes displays a less than sure sense of direction. In the Arietta, for example, Kempf’s tone can sometimes sound louder than Beethoven’s intention which was surely almost to muffle it. Having said that, his tempi are almost ideal: the well sustained opening to the Maestoso, with finely projected rhythm, is sharply focussed and his arpeggios have thrilling immediacy and impact. The allegro con brio is almost ideally timed – not too fast, and with just the right degree of fusion to give a polyphonic radiance beyond the notes.

Never less than fascinating this disc shows a young tiger with an absolute command of the keyboard. There are sublime touches and Kempf has an unerring ability to strike beauty from the piano. Do hear this disc but don’t assume that it is the last word on Beethoven – or Kempf.

Marc Bridle

Interview with Freddy Kempf

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