Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor
Études Tableaux Op.
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962) transcribed by
BIS CD 1042
Following the acclaim of his first disc, Freddy Kempf plays Schumann,
the young British pianist has now turned his attention to Rachmaninov. This
is in many ways a finer disc, displaying a touch that is mercurial and a
tone that gleams like a golden fleece. The sonorities are as fiery as the
Phlegethon as Kempf steers a course through Rachmaninov's opulent sound-world.
These are performances that float notes as gracefully as any and mix dizzying
virtuosity with tempered poetry.
The Second Sonata is extremely fine, and Kempf is quite incandescent in his
handling of the glittering figuration. The opening chords are volcanic, erupting
with a chaotic cloak of colour that mixes vermilion's with scorched yellows.
The colours do not so much collide, as coalesce, as the densely chromatic
decoration moves almost laterally into passages of the most intimate beauty.
This is first and foremost a kaleidoscopic interpretation, one that, whilst
perhaps lacking the monumental scale that Horowitz brought to the work, seeks
refuge in the lyricism of the Rachmaninov of the Second Concerto. In fact,
although Kempf plays the original 1913 version one is constantly aware of
him looking back farther to the beginning of the century, and the Second
Concerto of 1901, rather than the more contemporaneous Third Concerto from
The restoration of the 113 bars cut for the 1931 version gives this work
an homogeneity that is now easy to appreciate. The rhetoric and surging passion
of the opening movement, with its rugged textures, and supremely baritonal
strength (listen to Kempf at 6'01 to 6'28), are majestically drawn. The lyricism
and dynamic shadings grow almost preternaturally (7'05 onwards). Kempf gives
his second movement - marked only non-allegro - attacca - a
dreamy landscape of delicious seductiveness, the harmonies more clearly
Scriabinesque than we usually hear. From 2'48 to 3'14 you can hear exactly
how Kempf links this Sonata back to the sound of the Second Concerto. The
final movement is a veritable tour de force, and Kempf's pianism here
reaches transcendental peaks. The Romanticism of this movement is red-blooded,
with a potent, almost sexually charged dynamism. The colours are almost always
darker than before - crimson tides, with an almost port-wined darkness to
his tone. From 5'02 he launches the final pages with wild abandon.
A colleague recently sent me a copy of a CDR performance of Kempf playing
the Op.36 Sonata at the Shirakawa Hall in Nagoya (from Kempf's 1999 Japanese
tour). If anything, this is an even more incandescent performance, with the
colours more fin-de-siecle than in this recorded version. There is
added spaciousness to the slow movement, a more varied sense of poetic
bewilderment, and an almost Homeric mystery to the movement's development.
This is then contrasted by a more mercurial tension to the closing allegro
and a dramatic tempest of almost frenetic passion.
The Etudes-tableaux require an even greater sense of coloration in
order to bring the sinuous writing to the fore. Alternating between eddying
vibrancy, vortex-driven harmonies, desolation and almost cavernous sonorities
their moods are multifarious. Kempf achieves this, and more, magnificently.
Just listen to his handling of the Appassionato (No 5), to hear how
he gets an almost orchestral palette from the piano. The line is inexorably
held, long-breathed and alternating between a whisper to the most plangent
echo. In No 6, his triplets and treble semi-quavers are devolved from the
most assured technique, but the personality he attaches to each set of notes
paints a picture of quite astonishing realism. No 9 has real panache, with
notes ricocheting from the keyboard and a dramatic rhythmic tension.
In short, this is a superb disc. Kempf's pianism is often like a tsunami,
swelling with both passion and poetry. The technique is superb, the understanding
of Rachmaninov's image-fuelled writing often more so. The sounds he gets
from the Yamaha piano are amongst the most convincing I have heard from this
instrument, the recording very natural. A winning disc.
Marc Bridle has interviewd Freddy
see also live concert
Ian Lace adds:-
I remember sitting transported when I heard Freddy Kempf playing the Rachmaninov
Variations to win the 1992 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. I
wrote in Classic CD at that time, "here was insight and sensitivity way beyond
his 14 years. But will this commitment be captured on disc?" Since then,
of course, he has gone on to win the third prize in the 1998 Tchaikovsky
competition and to endear himself to countless discriminating Russian music
lovers. But he was wise enough to back out of the limelight, after the BBC
competition, to allow his technique to mature and his musicality deepen further.
He has now emerged to pursue a promising career as perhaps, one of the greatest
pianists of this new century. Already, the critics have eulogised over his
first recording - of Schumann - for BIS and he is greatly sought after all
over the world.
This new recording of Rachmaninov instrumental works can only enhance his
The well-loved Piano Sonata No.2 is played in its original more demanding
Kempf 's reading has a fitting sense of theatricality. He is alert to all
its poetry as well as its power, conscious of all its subtleties, tuned to
its rhythmic twists, its ebb and flow, and its mercurial changes of mood,
dynamics, tempi. He pounces like a tiger in the more bombastic outbursts
of the outer movements but floats feather-like just discernible figurations
in the more chaste inner Non allegro.
To quote from Ates Orga's brilliant notes for this album, "Rachmaninov 'cared
little for what we mighht call "physical" programme music [in the Straussian
understanding] [but he] liked an external influence: he liked to be captivated
or inspired y a picture or a poem, but the inspiration having been found
he relegated the actual subject to the background and rarely revealed its
identity." Rachmaninov, though, confided to Respighi who was to orchestrate
some of them that each had its own programme 'a secret' explanation, revealing
only four of them from this set.
Kempf's inspired readings of these Études-tableaux again show his
wonderful sense of atmosphere, drama, and colour. His Lento assai
Étude No. 2, a portrayal of "'the sea and seaguls' is rapturous evocation
of a lonely ocean, desolate birds, the Northern light veiled in Dies irae
tones". You wonder that there are just two hands are at work here, the rich
multi-layered texture with the overlapping watery figures and the mournful
dies irae figures almost lulling one hypnotically into a dangerous sleep
seem to be emanating from an orchestra so skillfuly has Rachmaninov written
this music and Kempf responding with playing that is totally controlled,
perfectly balanced and utterly convincing. In Étude 5 (Appassionato)
he gives us an emotionally charged reading of the sort of music that one
associates with the grand melodies of the piano concertos. In Étude
7 he paints a vivid picture of a funeral, the rain pouring relentlessly as
the coffin nears the church to a funeral march; the choirs is heard distantly,
inside, bells toll
As relief there is the more raucous Étude
No. 6 evoking the growls of the wolf as he stalks and pounds after Red Riding
Hood obliviously skipping on her way to her grandmother's.
The programme ends with Kempf's nicely restrained reading of Rachmaninov's
transcription of Fritz Kreisler's lovely Liebeslied, here overlayed with
some Rachmaninov bitter-sweet melancholy
This is an excellent album which should be in the collection of every lover
of Rachmaninov and every admirer of supreme pianistic artistry.
[Those who might be interested in reading the linked review of Respighi's
transcription, for orchestra, of five of these