Guest Review

Liszt Transcendental Etudes Nos. 8, 9, 10 & 11; Consolation No.3 Prokofiev Piano Sonata No.7 in B-flat major Op.83 Chopin Four Ballade;s Grand Polonaise Chopin Liszt Freddy Kempf piano 2 July, 2000 Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore

(This review by Johann D'Souza has been kindly sponsored by the Singapore Symphonia Co. Ltd)

The programme that Freddy Kempf picked for the final recital of the International Piano Festival in Singapore has got to be one of the most technically demanding . The Transcendental Etudes, as suggested in the title, can transport you to a new plane; and Freddy Kempf did bring us there to some degree. A very tense and intense player, he began the Wilde Jagd at such a speed that the word "prestissimo" would be completely inadequate. Throwing caution to the wind was the order of the day and while you do get technical specialists who can go through the most difficult of pieces without a mistake, Kempf's playing was often marred by wrong notes, wrong chords and blurred runs. Despite these intricacies, which can be forgiven, he made up for it with his intensity. He reminds me a lot of the young Pogorelich.

Kempf seemed to border on the extreme: some of his notes were overly emphasized and some of them cut off too quickly. However there were some sections which were clean, clear and well thought-out. This was especially so in the 11th Etude (Harmonies du soir). Etude No. 10 was rather disappointing - his speed blistered through some of the more important facets of the piece and much of it was lost through a lack of thorough understanding.

The Prokofiev Sonata captured more interest. I was especially curious about it and waited in anticipation to hear the third movement - the Precipitato. The last time I heard this piece was when Boris Berman played it in the Piano Festival some years ago to make up for the indisposed Andrei Gavrilov. Berman, a well-known pedagogue and Prokofiev specialist, played with true grit, enthusiasm and an ironclad hold on the piece. Kempf's reading however was slightly too fast, once again lacking depth, although most of the technical aspects of the piece were relatively well covered. If one was looking for a mighty revelation it did not come, unfortunately.

The much anticipated Preciptato was taken at such a breakneck speed (I have not seen anything like this before) that Kempf got lost in some areas. Runs were often muffled by the pedal and although the crowd greeted the ending with cheers, those of us who knew the piece cringed in silence.

The second half of the programme provided us with a Lisztian display of the Chopin Ballades. I was very disappointed from the onset of the first Ballade in G minor. Kempf's lack of textual fidelity was my major point of contention. Sudden shifts of tempo were the order of the day and this is where the salient points of the piece were missing.

Some of his runs were rather muffled from his over zealous use of the pedal and over-syncopated notes which stood out like a sore thumb. His F major Ballade which should start off at Adagio sounded more like Allegretto and in the repeat passages sounded even faster. The build up to the flourish did not materialize because I felt he shot off too quickly and, too soon, that all expected anticipation was lost.

The Third Ballade I felt was a bit of an exaggeration. I could not connect at all to his interpretation in any way. Some of the more clearly defined sections of the Ballade were totally lost through skimpy dynamics and muffled runs. As for the Fourth Ballade, he started off typically like the first three - too fast. Some of his notes were banged out like a Lisztian Rhapsody. I felt rather disappointed as this is perhaps one of the worst renditions of the Ballades I have ever heard.

For his encores, he played Chopin's Waltz Polonaise. For those who love the composer, especially as a Romantic one, you have to agree with me that he slaughtered this encore and the much-loved Liszt Consolation, which was also marred by some harsh dynamics that completely annihilated the piece.

Overall I was very disappointed.

Johann D'Souza

This is a shortened review which appears courtesy of the Flying Inkpot .


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