Wilhelm Kempff made two LP cycles of the concertos, the first
with van Kempen, with whom he was much associated on disc, and
the second with Leitner. In addition, he made a pre-war 78 recording
of the Emperor Concerto in Berlin with Raabe, and the
Third and Fourth concertos with van Kempen. Both LP cycles have
their adherents and I wouldn’t be without either, though
sonically the mono van Kempen invariably cedes to the Leitner
in that respect. In artistic terms, things are very much more
Now here is a live, ancillary boxed collection of the concertos
performed in April 1970 in Tokyo, which therefore post-dates
the stereo Leitner cycle. It has things in its favour. The NHK
was in very much better form now than it had been in the 1950s
and even the earlier 1960s when it was still a shaky ensemble.
The stereo broadcast quality is perfectly reasonable. Kempff
plays with fluency and poetry. But there are also the inevitable
corollaries of live performance, and balancing: the percussion,
for instance, is aggressively recorded. Though there is clarity
and grandeur in the Emperor and a classicist reserve
in the slow movement, one senses Kempff tiring in the finale
where he makes some small slips. I suspect that this is because
he had just played the G major concerto as well that evening.
Two days earlier he had actually performed the first three concertos
in one concert. This was the kind of thing that wunderkind violinists
used to do to show off their stamina in the 1930s, but I wonder
if it was reasonable to expect Kempff to do it.
That G major performance seems less impressive than Kempff’s
usual high standard. He gets through the slow movement quite
briskly - in Berlin with Leitner he had been a full minute slower
and in this compact movement that’s a telling difference.
Worse, the results are curiously inexpressive for this most
poetic of players. Was he unsettled? The C minor is a good,
solid Kempff performance with, as usual, his own cadenza in
the opening movement. The slow movement is refined, the finale
emphatic. Tadashi Mori (1921-87) was a good orchestral trainer
but from these results not the most thoughtful or poetic of
The highest level of hiss comes in the First Concerto, but this
performance has freshness and enthusiasm (because it was the
first to be performed, maybe?). His lyricism and refined touch
are heard at their best here and in the Second Concerto.
This is a valuable souvenir of Kempff in Tokyo, a country he
loved and where he, too, was much loved, and esteemed. Clearly
it can’t stand in the company of the two studio cycles,
which means it’s strictly for completists. The sleeve
notes, by the way, are only in Japanese.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven