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Kempff Polydor 5638
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Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
Bach, Mozart, Schubert & Schumann: The complete Polydor recordings 1927-36
rec. 1927-1936
APR RECORDINGS 5638 [74:38]

APR has invested time and money in its exploration of Wilhelm Kempff’s 78s (see APR6018 APR6019 and APR7403) and the latest release in the pianist’s legacy focuses on Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann in recordings made between 1927 and 1936 for Polydor. These are, in other words, his pre-war electrically-recorded non-Beethoven recordings

As such they have much to tell us about his lithe, lively musicianship. The most significant of his Bach recordings here is that of the French Suite in G major, largely shorn of repeats but otherwise complete. One can intuit his forward-looking approach to ornamentation from the Allemande as well as his subtle use of rubato. The Courante is brisk but accomplished, the Sarabande sings, though it doesn’t quite dance and the Bourée is crisp and fast but without ever sounding rushed. The Gigue finale, however, is taken at a speed that makes true clarity of articulation impossible, though the finger work itself is remarkable.

He plays Preludes and Fugues from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier though whilst Nos 3 and 5 were recorded at the same session in 1928, No 5 was remade three years later. As is house style, APR brings together these recordings under their respective composers so this is in no sense a chronological survey of Kempff’s recordings. The copy of the remade Prelude sounds somewhat swishier than the 1928 one but in compensation one can hear far more of the room acoustic. So many recordings of the Italian Concerto from this time disappoint but Kempff’s doesn’t, marrying playfulness with bravura, and it’s a shame that he seems never to have recorded the work complete, merely the opening movement. It comes from the same session as the 1931 Prelude and Fugue. His Bach transcriptions span the years and many will recall his LP recordings with affection (see review). His famous Largo transcription is actually slower in 1927 than it was in his 1970s recording, somewhat unusually, whilst Wachet auf is played with grandeur and nobility. Wir danken dir is wonderfully powerful in conception and execution.

In Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K331 Kempff snips a few repeats, presumably to get the whole work onto four 78 sides. It is the only example of an electrically recorded Mozart sonata in his 78 discography. His clarity and lightness are aided by a fine July 1935 recording and his judicious weighting is everywhere audible with the alla turca finale sounding vibrant but without ever sounding showy. To follow this, we have the hyphenated Schubert-Liszt-Kempff Hark, hark! The lark transcription, two minutes forty seconds of scintillating virtuosity. The two Schubert Moments musicaux are particularly fine, notably the searching and truly musical reading of the C sharp minor, perhaps finer as performances even than the two Schumann pieces that end the disc, Aufschwung from Fantasiestücke Op.12 and Träumerei.

The booklet notes are in the erudite hands of annotator Stephen Siek and the restoration comes courtesy of the hard-working Mark Obert-Thorn, who has produced admirable transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews: Rob Challinor ~ Stephen Greenbank

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suite No 5 BWV.816 (1722-5) [8:49]
Prelude and Fugue Book 1 No 3 in C-sharp minor, BWV.848 (1722) [3:20]
Prelude and Fugue Book 1 No 5 in D major, BWV.850 (1722) [2:58]
Prelude and Fugue Book 1 No 5 in D major, BWV.850 (1722) [3:04]
Italian Concerto – first movement, BWV.971 (1735) [3:33]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Wilhelm KEMPFF (1895-1991)
Largo from Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV.1056 (1738) [4:14]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV.645 (1748-49) [5:00]
Siciliano from Sonata for flute and clavier in E-flat major, BWV.1031 (1730-24) [2:52]
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV.29 (1731) [3:51]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in A major, K.331 (1783) [15:28]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886) and Wilhelm KEMPFF
Ständchen 'Horch, horch! die Lerch', S.558 No 9 (1876) [2:41]
Moments musicaux in F minor, D.780 No 3 (1823) [2:03]
Moments musicaux in C-sharp minor, D.780 No 4 (1823) [3:36]
Impromptu in B-flat major, D.935 No 3 (1827) [6:50]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Aufschwung - Fantasiestücke Op 12 No 2 (1837) [3:08]
Träumerei – Kinderszenen Op 17 No 7 (1838) [3:00]

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