This valuable release
in Hänssler’s new series of budget
historical issues brings two fairly
early recordings by the celebrated German
pianist, Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991).
He was in his fortieth year when the
earlier of these two recordings was
Kempff’s account of
the ‘Emperor’ is a fine one. His pianism
is elegant, poised and refined but in
no way lacking in strength. In particular
his playing in the massive first movement
has an aristocratic feel to it. In his
hands the slow movement is a highly
sensitive nocturne, distinguished by
some truly poetic playing. Kempff is
well supported by the orchestra. The
transition to the finale is magically
done and the rondo itself is spirited
In this performance
Kempff is partnered by the Berlin Philharmonic
under Peter Raabe (1872-1945). Raabe
was a noted Liszt scholar as well as
a conductor and administrator and was
a prominent figure in German musical
life in the 1930s and 1940s. He gives
his soloists solid and reliable support.
The recorded sound, from Deutsche Grammophon
originals is pretty good for its age.
As transferred by Hänssler there
is some hiss but this is not such as
to distract the listener. Unsurprisingly
the piano reproduces well. However when
Kempff is playing loudly the sound of
his instrument dominates the sound picture.
The conductor in charge
for the G major concerto is the Dutchman,
Paul van Kempen (1893-1955). He gives
Kempff a sensible, alert accompaniment.
The very opening chords are beautifully
weighted and placed by Kempff and preface
a fine reading of the first movement
from all concerned. There is a classic
grace to the playing but his fingers
have steel in them when required. In
the slow movement he is just as poetic
and refined as he was in the comparable
movement of the ‘Emperor’ and the finale
is charged with energy and joy. To my
ears the piano sound is a bit brittle
and "clangy" in this concerto
but sonic limitations will not prevent
enjoyment of what is a fine performance.
In the Fourth Concerto
I wonder if Kempff plays his own cadenzas?
They are certainly new to me and are
not Beethoven’s. These are ingenious
and well constructed. Actually, I thought
they worked quite well. Sadly, Hänssler
can’t help us with any information on
this point. There are no notes whatsoever.
Instead, in the irritating habit of
several record companies these days
listeners are invited to download the
booklet from their website (www.haenssler-classic.de)
where English translations are available.
However, as I write this review in early
November, the booklet for this release
is unavailable on the web. This is an
irritating black mark against what is
otherwise a distinguished and desirable
Admirers of this great
German pianist should certainly snap
up this CD.