Karajan’s artistic grip on the Salzburg
Festival unofficially spanned three decades and woe betide anyone who
upset him. Whether Kempff did or did not must be a matter of conjecture.
What is sure is that this was his one and only appearance at the event.
He was 63 years old at the time and lived to the ripe old age of 96,
outliving Karajan himself. He was also a major recording artist for DG
and their influence on the Festival was almost as pervasive as the
conductor’s. Nevertheless this disc manages to fill a gap in Kempff’s
discography with the Beethoven and Brahms works, two of the composers
(Schubert and Schumann the others) with whose music this great pianist
is readily associated. Kempff’s playing has two persistent virtues, his
sense of rhythm and spontaneity. Much of this was the consequence of
playing chamber music with such greats as Kulenkampff, Schneiderhan,
Menuhin, Fournier and Rostropovich. Brendel is an admiring disciple and
attended the master’s renowned classes in interpretation regularly held
in the Italian town of Positano, where Kempff lived.
By all accounts it was hot and humid in
the Mozarteum on 31 July 1958 for Kempff’s recital, but he seemed
unaffected and the audience were engrossed in his poetic playing of
Schumann’s Fantasie. He followed it with the late Bagatelles of
Beethoven, rarely heard in the concert hall, and suffused the six with
simplicity and clarity whilst dextrously fingering their more florid
phrases in a highly focused performance. Brahms’ youthful sonata, his
‘Song of Love and Death’, is a highly Romantic showpiece which Kempff
exploits to the full, belying his more advanced years, facing head on
the technical hazards, such as the first movement’s complexities, and
painting vivid colours of sound and dynamics.
In my review of another CD from this
series (Carl Schuricht conducting Stölzel and Beethoven) I may have
implied that the Orfeo D’Or series was but a dozen discs. In fact
whereas there are that number listed of orchestral concerts, there are
plenty more devoted to solo recitals such as this, as well as chamber
music and song recitals.