The British pianist Freddy Kempf is still a young artist,
yet he has already established himself as a major figure on the international
scene. This disc is surely evidence enough, since it was recorded in
Stockholm and features some of the most challenging music ever written
for the piano.
There is of course far more to Liszt than the shallow
generally held view that he was a virtuoso first, a creative artist
second. Not that there is anything wrong with virtuosity, which was
a significant driving force during the romantic era. The concept of
'the artist as hero' remains potent to this day, not least when we encounter
an artist who can do justice to the towering demands of the Transcendental
Studies. And Freddy Kempf certainly does so.
The BIS recorded sound is excellent, capturing an ideal
balance between detail and atmosphere. In fact this balance is a critical
factor in a recording of these Studies, whose emotional, technical and
expressive range is particularly wide. The piano is a Yamaha, and it
sounds very well. It is also pleasing to note its acknowledgement in
the excellent accompanying booklet; too often record companies are careless
about these things.
Kempf's strengths surround his clear-headed control
of texture and line, and in this sense the engineers have served him
particularly well. On the other hand, the clarity of the recording also
exposes occasional smudginess in the faster music. For example, the
articulation is less than perfect in Feux follets, as it is in
most performances. But there are some, such as the stunning EMI recording
by Lazar Berman, which reach a higher, almost superhuman, plane.
Kempf prefers a clear-headed exploration of the music
rather than an 'over the top' indulgence, and this is another divergence
from the Berman performance. Listen to the sanity and control of Wilde
Jagd and the torrents of notes in Chasse neige, and the choice
of approach will be clear.
In truth there is more than one way of performing a
masterwork, and the serious collector can accommodate both, and the
views of other artists too. A stern critic might suggest that in Kempf's
interpretations the music remains closer to the world of the pianistic
study than to the world of the visionary romantic artist. Yet there
remains much to enjoy in the performances on this disc, in particular
the sensitive responses to details of texture and to dignity of line.
Although this may not be a definitive performance, nor an ideal one,
it is well worth hearing and offers riches in abundance.