Für Elise : Kempff Transcriptions and Encores
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor
, BWV903 [12:38]
Nunn komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV659 (arr. Wilhelm Kempff) [5:58]
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (from Cantata BWV147: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben) (1723) (arr. WK) [3:42]
Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV727 (arr. WK) [2:45]
In dulci jubilo, BWV729 (arr. WK) [2:01]
Nun freut euch, liebe Christen g'mein (arr. WK) [1:41]
Siciliano (from Flute Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, BWV1031) (arr. WK) [4:14]
Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme (from Cantata BWV140: Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme) (1731) (arr. WK) [4:57]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Air con variazioni 'The Harmonious Blacksmith'
(from Harpsichord Suite No. 5 in E major, HWV430) [5;23]
Minuet (from Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in B flat , HWV434) (arr. WK) [3:19]
François COUPERIN 'Le Grand' (1668-1733)
Le carillon de Cythère
(from Pièces de clavecin - Troisième livre - 14e order) [4:49]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Le Rappel des Oiseaux
(from Premier livre de pièces de clavecin - Suite in E minor, 1724 rev. 1731) (arr. WK) [3:21]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
in C minor WoO52 [4:17]
Bagatelle in A minor, Für Elise, WoO 59 [3:29]
Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
rec. March 1953, (Bach only) and May 1955 Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1288 [63:32]
Wilhelm Kempff studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, after early study with his father. He made his debut in 1917 and a sixty year career followed. He was famed for his interpretations of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann and his recordings of the Beethoven and Schubert Sonatas are, quite rightly, highly prized.
This disk offers miniatures, some of them in arrangements by the pianist himself - like so many performers of his time he was a composer as well, and some of his works are available on Arte Nova, Marco Polo and VMS. This selection of pieces is interesting, pleasing and very tuneful. However, the first five tracks are slow and somewhat ponderous, and the performances failed to make any impression on me. With Nun freut euch, liebe Christen g'mein the tempo increases, for a moment, but the playing is still bland. It simply doesn’t take off; it’s far too leaden footed. Then it’s back to the slow tempo and a ponderous Siciliano from the 3rdFlute Sonata. The Bach group ends with Kempff’s own arrangement of Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme which, like all the other Bach works here, is four-square and solid. What I love about Bach is his life-affirming style: he dances for joy so often, and raises the roof with his praise and compassion. These are very romantic interpretations. There’s nothing wrong with that for Bach can stand almost any treatment, but what is missing here is a release of exuberance and Kempff never smiles. The Harmonious Blacksmith starts in the same mould but once the variations get going there’s much more colour and variety to Kempff’s playing. Likewise the Minuet from the 1stHarpsichord Suite, which has a French feel to it and, although rather strict in its 3/4 time, could actually be a dance.
Things are even better with Couperin’sLe carillon de Cythère where Kempff displays a lightness of touch which is perfect for this piece. Rameau’s Le Rappel des Oiseaux is very pleasant even if these oiseaux seem to have enjoyed a little too much birdseed.
The final two tracks find Kempff in his comfort zone. Beethoven’s Bagatelle in C minor is nicely handled, with perfect control and understanding. Für Elise bursts out of the speakers at a louder volume than the previous piece and this inflates the work as it sounds tubby and distorted.
I would not want to be without Kempff’s recordings of the Schubert and Beethoven Sonatas and Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms Concertos, but this disk doesn’t do him any favours. The overall sound is somewhat boxy and the piano sound is flabby. I have never heard the originals so I have no idea if this is what they sounded like, or if it is the result of the transfer. As a memorial to a great pianist this fails to show Kempff at his best and he deserves better than this.
Bob Briggs