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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in E-flat major, op. 73, "Emperor" [36:50]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G major, op. 58 [33:03]
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Raabe (Op. 73)
Orchestra of the German Opera House, Berlin, Paul van Kempen (Op. 58)
No recording locations given. Remastered recordings from original 78 r.p.m. recordings from the collection of Dr. Jens-Uwe Völmecke, Erftadt, Germany. Remastered in 2003 by THS Studio, Holger Seidler, Dormagen, Germany. Recording dates: 1935 (Op. 73) and 1941 (Op. 58) ADD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC (MASTERPIECE SERIES) CD 94.045 [69:53]


Hänssler Classics have initiated a rather extensive series of budget-priced recordings that seem to cover a wide range of repertoire, and several decades of recorded history. In this installment we hear a young Wilhelm Kempff in very fine readings of the last two of Beethoven’s piano concerti. Kempff, in his latter years was known the world over for his passionate, stately and expressive Beethoven sonata recordings. It is clear from these performances that the poetry that the elder musician came to express was already being studied and developed at an early stage in his career.

Hänssler’s engineers have made excellent transfers, which minimize surface noise as much as possible without taking away the depth of the tone. I am always amazed by just how much sonic information was stored in the grooves of records from this period, now nearly seventy years past. On the whole, the piano sound is clear and warm, although on occasion I found the upper register to be a bit thin and clanky. Of course, there is not a huge bloom to the string sound, but with some imagination, the mind can fill in what the early recording technology was unable to capture.

As for the performances, there is little that needs to be said critically of them, they have already well stood the test of time. As a description though, Kempff’s playing is fleet and elegant, and right from the opening flourish of the Emperor, the delights in store are evident. Of particular merit is the tenderly played and beautifully "sung" adagio. Slow, but never labored, by the end of it I found myself on the edge of my seat in anticipation of the jolly rondo, and was not at all disappointed. The same qualities hold true of the fourth concerto, which is played with equal rightness of tempo, clarity of passagework and cantabile in the slow movement.

Both orchestras are of the first order, although it is a bit difficult to judge more than the intonation and precision of the ensembles due to the limitations of the recordings. Again, the attentive imagination should be able to fill in the sonic gaps, thus rendering the performances more than satisfactory.

Hänssler have come forth with a rather interesting presentation for this series that I am not exactly sure I like. Instead of providing program notes, the buyer is directed to the company’s web site, where downloadable program notes for all of the discs in the series are supposedly available. When I surfed over to check out the goods, I found that the program note feature would not be available until late February, so I was unable to glean any information about either music or performers. Of course, most folk are familiar with the Beethoven concertos, but this seems to be a cheap shortcut that is a misuse of technology. It surely cannot increase the production costs, especially since the recordings are public domain, to include notes on the music and artists with the disc. I am sure that there is a sizable enough audience without ready Internet access and computer savvy that would be left out in the cold by having booklet information available only in cyberspace. It is a clever idea on the face of it, but in the end, an idea that does not hold up well under a strong light.

In short, fine performances by a master in his youth, well worth a listen as an historical document. This is a good supplemental item for any library.

Kevin Sutton

 

 



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