Kempff - The Concerto Recordings [14 CD]
Audio CD | Import, 14 CD, Box Set
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Last year it was the Kempff solo recordings which brightened up our winter days at the start of the new year.
Now we can offer, for the first time, a compact 14-CD set of his complete concerto studio recordings. They span from his 1925 recording of Beethovens First Concerto (the first ever to be made of that work) to his visionary 1977 performances of Mozarts Concertos Nos. 21 and 22, now receiving their first international CD release. Unlike the solo recordings set, this edition is non-limited.
Kempff traversed the set of Beethoven Concertos three times in the studio (only No.2 was not set down during the shellac era); all those performances are included in this set.
Theres more Mozart, Brahms and Schumann. In addition, 1950s Decca recordings of two Mozart concertos, the Liszt and Schumann concertos are also featured.
CD 1-2 BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 1-4 /BP/Leitner (1961)
CD 3 BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto 5 /BP/Leitner (1961);
MOZART: Piano Concerto No.20;
MOZART: Konzertrondo D-Dur K.382 /Dresdner Philharmonie/van Kempen (Berlin, 1941)
CD 4-5 MOZART: Piano Concertos 8, 23, 24, 27/BP/Bamberger Symphoniker/Leitner (1960/1962)
CD 6 MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 21 & 22/SOBR/Klee (1977)
CD 7 1-3 SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor; 4-5 SCHUMANN: Konzertstück in G major op.92 /SOBR/Kubelik (recorded 1973)
CD 8-9 BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos nos. 1-3 & no. 5 /BP/van Kempen (1953)
CD 10 BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 /BP/van Kempen (1953);
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor /Staatskapelle Dresden/Konwitschny (1957)
CD 11 MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 15 /Münchinger (Decca, 1953)
1-3 SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor /LSO/Josef Krips Decca (1953);
4-11 LISZT: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 /LSO/Anatole Fistoulari Decca (1954)
CD 13 BEETHOVEN:
1-3 Concerto No. 1 Kempff/Kapelle der Staatsoper, Berlin (first recording of work, September 1925);
4-6 Concerto No. 3 Kempff/Dresdner Philharmonie/Paul van Kempen (June 1942, Berlin)
CD 14 BEETHOVEN:
1-3 Concerto No.4; Orchester des Deutschen Opernhauses Berlin / Paul van Kempen (recorded April 1941);
4-6 Concerto No. 5 Kempff/BP/Peter Raabe (recorded Berlin, Polydor Studios, June 1936 )
Top Customer Reviews
After Schnabel, Kempff, who studied with Karl Heinrich Barth, was the principal exponent of the German school of piano performance. Like Schnabel (and unlike many later exponents of that school) Kempff had a beautiful, individual sound. While he was generally faithful to the score, he did not get caught up in details and was not a purist (he occasionally eschewed repeats and doubled bass notes). In these respects, but few others, Kempff was similar to another Barth pupil: Arthur Rubinstein.
Kempff was primarily a pianist of poetry, introspection, and understanding. His technique was reliable, but he was not a virtuoso and never thundered. Kempff appeared to take Terence's dictum to heart: Moderation in all things. Thus, faster movements are never rushed, slow movements are never dragged. This works especially well in Mozart and most of Beethoven - but less so for Liszt.
Kempff recorded nine Mozart concertos and the Concert Rondo, K. 382, in which the pianist skillfully kept the music on a small scale without resorting to the porcelain doll approach. Most of the performances here are beautifully fluid and flexible, reminding me of Mozart's dictum that the music should "flow like oil". However, Concertos 21 and 22, recorded in 1977, suffer from notably tired sounding rondos. Kempff plays his own cadenzas in Concertos 8, 20, 21, 22, & 24, and Mozart's cadenzas in Concertos 9, 23, 27, and the Concerto Rondo, K. 382. Kempff plays his own cadenza in the opening movement of Concerto 15, and his arrangement of Mozart's cadenza in the finale.
Kempff recorded two complete cycles of Beethoven Concertos (although he did not record the Triple Concerto or the piano transcription of the Violin concerto), and 78rpm versions of all but the Second Concerto. Kempff's first recording of the C major Concerto, from 1925, was the first ever made of that piece. It was recorded using the old acoustical process and is primarily of historical interest.
On balance, I prefer the middle cycle with Kempen to the later one. Some will disqualify it since it's in mono, but the piano tone is more robust and Kempff's playing is freer and more imaginative. Still, there are lovely moments in the stereo cycle with Leitner, especially the pacing of the slow movements of the Third and Fourth Concertos. Kempff also plays his own cadenzas for the Beethoven Concertos (except for the Emperor concerto, where Beethoven forbade a cadenza) and his own arrangement of Beethoven's cadenza in the opening movement of Concerto 1.
Kempff recorded the Brahms D minor concerto only once, in 1957. Even under the best of conditions, this is a difficult piece to pull off: the piano writing is clumsy and not well balanced with the orchestra. There are several issues with this performance, including poor balance within the orchestra, and weak & out of tune winds. The high point is the slow movement, where Kempff's flowing tempo and straightforward phrasing clarify the structure. But this is undone by a finale lacking in energy and an ending buried in a haze of pseudo-reverence. He's no match for Rubinstein/Reiner or Fleisher.
Kempff recorded Schumann's Concerto twice. The earlier version, from 1953, features an ardent opening movement, followed by a mellow middle movement and beautifully balanced passage work in the finale. The later version, from 1973, is permeated by a sense of caution throughout the outer movements, while the middle movement has a lovely, simple poetry. While Kempff's conception is beautiful in its' way, one gets the impression he's husbanding his strength - a common issue with Kempff's post-1970 recordings.
Apart from the composer's later, impressionistic works, Kempff was not temperamentally suited to Liszt's music. Both the Liszt concertos are lethargically paced, flabbily phrased, and lacking in rhythmic verve. Also, there is a slight but distracting pitch change at 3:16 in the opening movement of the A major Concerto. Better to go with Richter or Hough in these works.
The recordings in this collection date from 1925-1977, so there's quite a variance in the recording quality. The 1925 acoustic recording sounds like it was made with a toy orchestra. But for the most part the sound is clear and natural, even in the 78rpm and mono recordings. The stereo Beethoven Concertos sound far better than they did on the Galleria CD issues from the 1980s.