Kuschnerova/Orfeo, Rangell/Dorian, Rubsam/Naxos, Schepkin/Ongaku,
Freddy Kempf is a fast-rising star of the piano repertoire
known for his outstanding virtuosity and independence of
interpretation. Any complaints about his music-making have
usually concentrated on the issue of mannerisms and characterization.
Unfortunately, these concerns rear their heads in this new
disc of two Bach keyboard partitas.
First, the good news. Kempf has "flying fingers" and
an overall technique that is very impressive; just listen
to his dynamic accounts of the Gigues from each Partita.
Also, his ornamentation is just how I like it: tasteful,
judiciously employed, and always a natural enhancement to
Bach's musical arguments. Kempf's double-dotted rhythmic
figures, such as in the D major Partita's Overture, are highly
ceremonial and possess ample rhythmic lift. He is attractively
poignant in the Sarabandes, a quality that also informs his
very slow-paced Allemande from the E minor Partita where
he makes Rosalyn Tureck sound like a speed demon in her measured
The debit side is also substantial. I mentioned earlier
Kempf's excellent rhythmic lift in the double-dotted overture,
but he generally flattens Bach's rhythms. The strongest manifestation
is in the D major's Air where Kempf squashes the rhythmic
patterns with the added disadvantage of the most feeble and
uninvolved weeping descending lines I have ever heard on
record. Another concern is that he displays a penchant for
playing in a demure and rather precious manner that is most
damaging to the D major Partita's magnificent and regal Allemande
where Kempf trades in majesty for flimsy meanderings. Other
less than sterling qualities include some spongy articulation,
weak conversation among voices and reduced bite to many phrases.
Perhaps most problematic is a lack of significant character
to Kempf's interpretations. Each of the comparison versions
possesses abundant character. I don't consider it unreasonable
to expect a healthy amount from Kempf. But he does not strongly
portray any of Bach's most compelling musical traits: severity,
joy, rhetoric/conversation, spirituality, foreboding, remorse,
playfulness, the "Papa Bach" effect. Specifically,
Kempf can't hold a candle to Gould's precision and majesty,
Tureck's probing nature, Rubsam's unique individuality, Schepkin's
poetry or Kuschnerova's joyful declarations.
Kempf's soundstage is fine, neither diminishing nor
enhancing the impact of the performances. But the program
is not market-friendly, having only two works on the disc.
Most modern-era recordings program three Partitas for a single
disc, but Kempf elects to play the two longest of the six
Partitas, insuring no space for a third work.
In conclusion, Kempf's new Bach recording adds little
to the discography of the Partitas. My best advice is to
acquire the Gould, Tureck, and Rubsam piano sets; each is
highly individualized and stunning in its impact. Kempf's
less than sterling accounts of only two Partitas at premium
price are simply not competitive with the better versions
in the catalogues.
see also review by Paul Shoemaker