Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:


Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue

Sonata no. 22 in F, opus 54

Piano Sonata in F minor, D65

Drei Klavierstucke, D946
Two Impromptus, D899 (Nos. 3 & 4)

Wilhelm Kempff
BBC Legends BBCL 4045-2 (77 minutes)

This recording is taken from a single recital, given on 5th June 1969. Bryce Morrison begins his excellent insert note with the words 'Most of us carry in our hearts cherished, even hallowed memories of great performances'. After mentioning various great pianists - Rubinstein, Arrau, Fran‡ois, Gould - he then goes further still: 'Yet if I were to single out one musical experience that transcended all others, it would have to be Wilhelm Kempff's 1969 Queen Elizabeth Hall recital.'

And he speaks the truth, that this is very special playing. The Bach is as eloquent as ever, and only the most blinkered of purists would object to hearing it played this well on the piano rather than the harpsichord (some of us prefer it, anyway, but of course Bach is the most indestructible of composers, so no matter). The voicing of parts in the fugue is exemplary, and the performance grows with absolute conviction.

The Beethoven Sonata in F is not one of his most celebrated pieces, but in this context, as part of a recital, it is the perfect foil to the Bach. The soft-toned opening phrase immediately makes this clear, and Kempff moves effortlessly and imaginatively on from there, as he proves that Beethoven's smaller sonatas are always worth our attention.

But the recital is dominated by Schubert. The F minor Sonata is, like the Beethoven, among the composer's less celebrated achievements. But it is masterpiece all the same, and its lyric tragedy is perfectly conveyed by Kempff. The Klavierstucke are more strongly recognised among Schubert's keyboard masterworks, impromptus but on a rather larger scale, typical of that exploratory final phase, if such words can be used of a composer who died at only 31. Two Impromptus proper (D899) are featured as encore items. They too are beautifully judged, and their relative simplicity makes a penetrating effect to bring the recital, and this splendidly recorded disc, to its conclusion.

Terry Barfoot

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