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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Wilhelm Kempff
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in F K.332 [16:37]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in B flat D.960 [36:53]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in A op.101 [19:13]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzi: B minor op.119/1 [03:13], C major op.119/3 [01:45]
Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
rec. 7 October 1967, Whitworth Hall, Manchester University. ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4169-2 [78:14]


I had quite a salutary lesson while listening to this. On the whole, I keep a score open while listening to discs for review - where I’ve got one, obviously. There are many artists who can provide us with real revelations as to what the composer actually wrote. There are others who are such a law unto themselves that it’s best to keep a check on what they’re up to.
 
I listened to the Mozart feeling that this was full of beautiful things, even while it was all wrong in principle. Rests are pedalled through, staccatos are made legato, legato is made staccato, dynamics are ignored or reversed, accents are ignored, others are put where none are written. Yet what a gracious spirit lay behind it all.
 
Early on in the Schubert something prompted me to lift my eyes from the score – and I never looked at it again. Without that impediment, I became aware of the grandeur and the beauty of what I was hearing. It’s one thing to witness how Kempff prepares for Schubert’s many modulations, when you’ve got the score in front of you and can see the modulation coming. But close your eyes and just listen, let him relate this modulation to you in his way, in his own time, in his own sound.
 
Bryce Morrison’s wise notes point out that, while Furtwängler may have called Géza Anda a “troubadour of the keyboard”, “the description is even more ideally suited to Wilhelm Kempff”. This, I think, is the hub of the matter. Although in reality Kempff may not depart all that flagrantly from the score, his spirit is nevertheless completely untrammelled by it, and the score will only get in the way of our understanding of what he has to tell. And, like a troubadour, he essentially relates, the music, sings it. Just listen to the myriad of delicate imaginings he finds in the Beethoven where so many others find only severity and asperity. His “Vivace alla Marcia” may not be note-perfect (but it is not the garbled mess Schnabel left us) yet it is so full of joy, and unlike that of Richter – who could physically play it much better – it convinces us that Beethoven was writing real and beautiful piano music. In the first of the Brahms pieces he gives us a more flowing tempo than usual – at last, I thought – while he shows the C major intermezzo – often made to sound inconsequential – to have a wider range of expression than we thought.
 
For most of this programme I was just dying to sit down at the piano at the end and try to play that Schubert sonata with something – just a tiny little something – of Kempff’s freedom and poetry. But I knew it was impossible. I sat down and played some other Schubert – it seemed safer.
 
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the sound is limited - it’s from a private source not an original BBC taping - or that you may have recordings of Kempff playing at least the Schubert and Beethoven in the studio. A Kempff recital would often take wing in ways of its own, and this CD gives you a fair idea of what it must have been like to attend one. Just a query: surely it can’t have been played in this order? The Mozart and Beethoven must have made the first half, the Schubert the second, with the Brahms as encores.
 
Christopher Howell
 

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