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Wilhelm Kempff in Caracas
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor K466 [30.31]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G [34.31]
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major [40.38]
Ecossaise in E flat [3.10]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu No.3 D899 [4.55]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Gavotte [3.38] arranged Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
Venezuela Symphony Orchestra [O.S.V.]/Rios Reyna
rec. live, Caracas, March 1956

I can’t see how Kempff’s memory is best served by issuing this catastrophic  - in all senses – live performance of the E flat major Concerto. Recorded on tour in Caracas the sound is bewilderingly awful – muffled percussion and lower strings, synthetic sounding hum and noise, the weirdest examples of tuttis I think I’ve ever heard - as if the sound were suddenly sucked out mechanically - and spatial wandering between left and right channels. Allied to this is the orchestra, a reasonable but hardly impressive one – weak winds, lack of string weight. And on top of this is Kempff; I’m quite prepared to believe it was Kempff that night in March 1956 but if so he was on calamitous form. He begins with audibly flustered slips from 5’00 onwards – but this seems to have set him off for the rest of the performance. It recovers in the second movement to an extent but comes horribly adrift in the finale. By the end Kempff has given up completely and he pounds away manically during the final orchestral tutti – utter calamity.
The rest of the programme derives from a programme given two days earlier. The G major Concerto is not the car crash its companion was but those who have the two commercial LP traversals of the Beethoven concertos (van Kempen and Leitner) will find no inducement to add this sub-par performance to their racks. Indicative of the problem is the rather uninflected and quick run-through of the slow movement and the lack of interplay between soloist and orchestral principals. The Mozart concerto fares better; the orchestral sound is still distant but the playing is neat enough and Kempff is elegant and warm. There are some rapturously received encores – indeed the Emperor was rapturously received as well.
The notes are superficial and tell us nothing about the circumstances of the tour or its attendant problems, still less about conductor Rios Reyna.
Pass by.

Jonathan Woolf





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