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Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
Recitals in France 1959-1967

MELOCLASSIC MC1042 [79:45 + 77:57]

These performances are drawn from three Kempff recitals – two from 1959 and one from 1967 – and he’s heard in music largely central to his repertoire. His July 1959 live recording from Divonne-les-Bains includes his own arrangement of Handel’s Chaconne in G major, enviably fluid and colourful and with a few trivial finger slips. It reminds one of the many arrangements Kempff made of the music of Baroque music, notably his Gluck and his Bach cantata and chorale prelude arrangements. Simply because he recorded a complete Beethoven sonata cycle in mono and stereo– and, as APR is reminding us, he left behind an incomplete but sizeable 78rpm legacy too – that’s certainly no reason to overlook this live reading of Op.31 No.3. The excitements and energising electricity of a live performance very often brought out an extra quotient of spontaneity from Kempff and here the sonata’s finale, in particular, benefits from this adrenalin rush. Beethoven’s Op.101 sonata (Besançon, 1967) is fiery and pawky according to mood and not too dissimilar in conception to his 1925 late acoustic reading.

Kempff would often select from amongst Brahms’s piano sets; here though we have the complete Op.118. He seems always to have taken the A major Intermezzo from this set at a business-like and unsentimental tempo, the Intermezzo in F minor is sturdily powerful and the Romance expressive, deft and playful. It’s a corollary of his passionate way with the final piece that he makes a few slips. It was relatively rare for Kempff to espouse much Chopin though there were excursions to the second and third sonatas and indeed he had recorded the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, which he plays here, the previous year on LP. Once again those looking for finger perfection – but who really does in live performance? – will note slips but more accommodating listeners will note the relative rarity of the repertoire.

The second disc is given over to Brahms and Schumann. The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel and Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major were given at a single concert held in Église Saint Pierre in Parades, a rather more sympathetic acoustic than either the Théatre Municipal, Besançon or the Théâtre du Casino, Divonne-les-Bains where, especially in July 1959, the sound is heard in a rather thin mono. Kempff is on fully communicative form in the Handel Variations, playing with dynamism, if sometimes blurring passagework as a result. Schumann’s Fantasie shares both these elements and here sometimes the sound is not ideally defined. Carnaval (September 1967) is sharply characterised, and gets better as the work develops though it too can be scrappy from time to time.

This gatefold twofer offers lively, human, sometimes fallible, but always elevated music-making in variable sound.

Jonathan Woolf

Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Chaconne in G Major, HWV 435 arr. Kempff [6:55]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 18 in E-flat Major, Op 31/3 [21:30]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
6 Klavierstücke, Op 118 [20:14]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op 22 [12:28]
rec. 10 July 1959, Divonne-les-Bains, Théâtre du Casino, RTF Live Recording
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 28 in A Major, Op 101[18:36]
rec. 13 September 1967, Besançon, Théatre Municipal, ORTF Live Recording
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op 24 [23:34]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C Major, Op 17 [29:33]
rec. 16 July 1959, Prades, Église Saint Pierre, RTF Live Recording
Carnaval, Op 9 [24:49]
rec. 13 September 1967, Besançon, Théatre Municipal, ORTF Live Recording

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