MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Freddy Kempf (piano)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [32:54]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la nuit (1909) [22:43]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey – Oriental Fantasy (1869, rev. 1902) [8:32]
Freddy Kempf (piano)             
rec. April 2006, Nybrokajen 11 (former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden
BIS BISSACD1580 [63:43]

Experience Classicsonline

All credit to Robert von Bahr at BIS for staying with SACD, even after the majors bailed out. In this low-quality, MP3-obsessed age it’s gratifying that good production values still matter to this label, which has produced some superb discs in recent years. Fortunately they have a roster of fine artists as well, among them the pianists Yevgeny Sudbin, Ronald Brautigam and the young Brit Freddy Kempf.

The latter’s cover portrait might suggest a touch of ennui, but I’m pleased to say there’s nothing tired about his playing here. I did wonder whether it was wise to attempt these Olympian scores so soon. In Pictures especially he is up against the likes of Sviatoslav Richter, Yefim Bronfman and Mikhail Pletnev; in the Ravel and Balakirev there are plenty of rivals too.

Mussorgsky’s response to Hartmann’s evocative pictures is probably best known in its various orchestral guises, where weight and colour are more easily achieved than on the piano. Kempf opts for a Steinway D, faithfully recorded, the opening ‘Promenade’ lighter and a little faster than I’d expected. Clearly this is not going to be a weighty reading, but what of the all-important light and shade?

Kempf certainly points up the grotesquerie of ‘Gnomus’, although his phrasing seems a trifle mannered at times. Pianophiles will revel in this lovely acoustic, the instrument ideally placed for maximum detail and clarity without ever seeming brightly lit. The tolling figures in the left hand and the animated flourished in the right have seldom sounded as natural as they do here.

I particularly admired ‘The Old Castle’, which Kempf despatches in flowing style, the troubadour’s lament tellingly phrased. It’s a surprisingly subtle reading and proof, if it were needed, that Kempf can play with delicacy and feeling. His reading of ‘Tuileries’ is immaculate, if somewhat detached, the swaying ox-cart in ‘Bydlo’ suitably ponderous. Speaking of which, some listeners may find Kempf’s rhythms a little too unyielding here.

Perhaps that’s the underlying problem in these Pictures; Kempf knows the notes but not how to bend them to his will when it matters. I’m not suggesting he play fast and loose with Mussorgsky’s markings – as Pletnev does – merely that he takes a few risks. Without that edge-of-the-seat element this music doesn’t always hold one’s ear as it should.

‘The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks’ confirms Kempf’s technical prowess, with some beautifully pointed playing, but it highlights his interpretive weaknesses too. I so wanted to hear a bit more sparkle here, perhaps even a sense of fun. And in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ the somewhat sinister characters are lightly sketched rather than drawn in detail.

The gossiping peasants in ‘The market at Limoges’ are despatched in scintillating style, although Kempf’s playing is much too manic for my tastes. And once we enter the catacombs the lack of sheer weight becomes more of an issue. That said he responds magically to the gloom of ‘Con mortuis in lingua mortua’. No quibbles about light and shade here. As for ‘The Hut on Hen’s Legs’ it’s a little rushed but remarkably it’s never garbled. When dashed off like this there isn’t much sense of the approaching grandeur of ‘The Bogatyr Gate’ which, to his credit, he despatches with newfound weight and tonal splendour.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, based on prose poems by Aloysius Bertrand (1807-41), is a set of virtuosic character pieces. The first movement, depicting the water nymph Ondine’s unrequited love for the poet, has a trembling, diaphanous beauty that Kempf captures very well indeed. Once again the recorded sound is exemplary, bringing out every nuance of this shimmering score.

The tolling B flat ostinato of ‘Le Gibet’ (The Gallows) will certainly induce a few shivers, although it isn’t quite as nightmarish or spectral as it can be. Still, I can’t fault Kempf when it comes to the sheer seductiveness of his playing. ‘Scarbo’ demands a different kind of virtuosity, to which the pianist responds with obvious relish. Yes, it may seem a little more reticent than some versions but he tackles it with enough brio to keep one hooked to the very end.

Gaspard was intended to be more difficult than Balakirev’s oriental fantasy Islamey, written forty years earlier. I’m pleased to say Kempf plays this music magnificently, his control of touch, phrasing and dynamics just remarkable. This really is pianism of a very distinguished kind and surely augurs well for the future.

Although I didn’t warm to these Pictures – I look forward to another showing some years hence – the Ravel and Balakirev are simply splendid. The BIS engineers must also take a bow, as they too have contributed to a most satisfying disc. More, please.

Dan Morgan


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.