Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wilhelm Kempff Plays Franz Schubert

Kempff himself wrote the liner notes to this highly satisfying set and states the following : "The deeper we penetrate into the world of Schubert, however, the greater is our surprise at discovering that the 'heavenly length' for which he is reproached is to be regarded relatively. If the length becomes evident as longueurs, the fault lies with the interpreter (I speak from my own experience...)." Indeed, in listening to Kempff play the Schubert sonata canon the thoughts of "overly long" or "needlessly repetitive" never entered my head. Barring some extraordinary performances of individual sonatas over the years, such as Richter's old Russian recording of the C minor (D.958) on Melodiya or Serkin's equally old recording of the B-Flat (D.960), this is the best playing of the Schubert sonatas I know.
I used to think of some of the earlier sonatas as practice or training pieces for the later masterworks (which of course by definition they are, but they need not be viewed retrospectively from the vantage point of the late works). Unfortunately, they often sound boring and immature. This is due to defects in players and the playing, not a problem with Schubert. Kempff makes all the sonatas here, including the early ones, glow with the utmost musicality so they stand on their own as beautiful works. Just one example : In the earlier of the a minor sonatas he handles little secondary figures that are intercalated within major theme phrases in an amazingly musical and beautiful way. As a pianist myself, I could never figure out how to make them unobtrusive, let alone desirable. Under Kempff's fingers they fit sublimely into the fabric of the work. The playing is clearly layered, every note and phrase has its place and purpose, his internal logic is such that nothing Schubert wrote sounds less than as it should. One more example: The first movement of the G major sonata ("Fantasy" sonata, D 894) floats in its ethereal haze but goes fast, not slow. Kempff can produce the effect of suspended animation without suspending the actual motion. This is no doubt what Schubert intended but it is very difficult to pull off as a performer. Kempff's treatment of the last 5 sonatas (D, G, A, c minor, and B flat) is breathtaking.
This set is a revelation. What a magnificent panorama of Schubert's development as a composer! Also, the origins of later composers' styles can be traced to Schubert's writing for piano. The roots of Bruckner's iterated and protracted symphonies can be heard, for example, in the way the finale of the a minor sonata begins. (I don't think this is apparent from other players, who lack Kempff's lyricism and mysticism.) Included beside the actual titled sonatas are various fragments of incomplete sonatas and collections of piano pieces that in effect are untitled sonatas (such as D 459/459A).
The recordings are from around 1965-1970 and the piano sound is singing, glowing, radiant. I recommend this set wholeheartedly to anyone interested in great musicianship, masterly piano playing, Schubert's piano music, and Schubert's evolution as a composer. Kempff makes you realize that the magic didn't all happen in the last year of Schubert's life, and I can't think of another pianist who does that for me. (There are few, if any, major players of Schubert with whom I'm not familiar.) Kempff was the leading German pianist of the immediate post-WW II era, but I think he has largely been forgotten. His Schubert, Beethoven, and Brahms are wonderful. Modern players, despite their steel fingers and elephantine endurance and machine-like (sometimes machine-gun-like) techniques, stand to learn a lot from this old master's art.
Elliot Richman

Source :

Wilhelm Kempff
Franz Schubert

The Piano Sonatas


Cd. 1

Piano Sonata n° 21 in B-Flat major, D.960
1 I. Molto moderato  21:09
2 II. Andante sostenuto  9:18
3 III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace con delicatezza)  4:48
4 IV. Allegro ma non troppo  8:01

Piano Sonata n° 3 in E major, D.459
5 I. Allegro moderato  6:02
6 II. Scherzo (Allegro)  4:58
7 III. Adagio  5:30
8 IV. Scherzo con trio (Allegro)  3:45
9 V. Allegro patetico  7:34


Cd. 2

Piano Sonata n° 19 in C minor, D.958
1 I. Allegro  8:39
2 II. Adagio  6:54
3 III. Menuetto (Allegro)  3:50
4 IV. Allegro  10:27

Piano Sonata n° 20 in A major, D.959
5 I. Allegro  10:45
6 II. Andantino  7:31
7 III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace)  5:20
8 IV. Rondo (Allegretto)  12:00


Cd. 3

Piano Sonata n° 18 in G major, D.894
1 I. Molto moderato e cantabile  10:54
2 II. Andante  6:53
3 III. Menuetto (Allegro moderato)  3:58
4 IV. Allegretto  8:58

Piano Sonata n° 17 in D major, D.850
5 I. Allegro vivace  9:44
6 II. Con moto  10:25
7 III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace)  9:31
8 IV. Rondo (Allegro moderato)  9:19


Cd. 4

Piano Sonata n° 16 in A minor, D.845
1 I. Moderato  8:04
2 II. Andante, poco mosso  9:04
3 III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace) - Trio (Un poco più lento)  6:44
4 IV. Rondo (Allegro vivace)  5:12

Piano Sonata in C major, D.840
("Reliquie" — Fragment)
5 I. Moderato  15:12
6 II. Andante  8:09

Piano Sonata n° 14 in A minor, D.784
7 I. Allegro giusto  8:46
8 II. Andante  4:11
9 III. Allegro vivace  5:26


Cd. 5

Piano Sonata n° 13 in A major, D.664
1 I. Allegro moderato  10:38
2 II. Andante  4:32
3 III. Allegro  5:18

Piano Sonata n° 11 in F minor, D.625
4 I. Allegro  9:52
5 II. Scherzo: Allegretto - Trio  6:08
6 III. Allegro  6:17

Piano Sonata n° 9 in B major, D.575
7 I. Allegro ma non troppo  8:00
8 II. Andante  5:42
9 III. Scherzo (Allegretto)  5:32
10 IV. Allegro giusto  5:31


Cd. 6

Piano Sonata n° 7 In E-Flat major, D.568
1 I. Allegro moderato  10:03
2 II. Andante molto  6:04
3 III. Menuetto (Allegretto)  4:30
4 IV. Allegro moderato  8:06

Piano Sonata n° 5 in A-Flat major, D.557
5 I. Allegro moderato  4:10
6 II. Andante  3:14
7 III. Allegro  4:29

Piano Sonata n° 6 in E minor, D.566
8 I. Moderato  7:07
9 II. Allegretto  8:57


Cd. 7

Piano Sonata n° 4 in A minor, D.537
1 I. Allegro ma non troppo  7:28
2 II. Allegretto quasi andantino  6:07
3 III. Allegro vivace  4:36

Piano Sonata n° 2 in C major, D.279
4 I. Allegro moderato  8:59
5 II. Andante  5:40
6 III. Menuetto: Allegro vivace - Trio  3:52

Piano Sonata n° 1 in E major, D.157
7 I. Allegro ma non troppo  7:03
8 II. Andante  7:40
9 III. Menuetto: Allegro vivace - Trio  4:54


Wilhelm Kempff - p

Recorded at Beethovensaal, Hannover ; between February 1965 & January 1969

See the compete artwork


theblueamos said...

Thank you for the schubert.I would also like your assistance,Im having problems unzipping the don friedman attila zoller,non of the P.W work,and there is on responce from Leopold.Thanks in advance

fcapeau said...

Splendid work, Mel, by a Master !
Many thanks.

Paco's brother said...

Magnifique œuvre, magnifique interprète, magnifique cadeau pour nos oreilles.

Slabtown said...

Would you be willing to repost "Wilhelm Kempff Plays Schubert"? The links are dead, and I missed this set when it originally appeared.

Thanks for an excellent site. High-quality jazz with some classical offerings is a good combination.

Paul (in Canada)

Melanchthon said...

Cd. 1
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Cd. 7