Friday, December 25, 2015

Wilhelm Kempff Plays Johannes Brahms

The arrival of these two twin-packs of Wilhelm Kempff’s Brahms comes as a serendipitous coincidence, for in reviews elsewhere in this issue, as well as in issues past, I’ve had occasion to mention my fondness for the pianist’s Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. The combined contents of these four discs, I do believe, constitute the entirety of Kempff’s Brahms on disc. He never recorded the Second Concerto, nor, as far as I know, did he ever commit to disc the first two sonatas, the “Paganini” Variations, the “Schumann” Variations, the Variations on an Original Theme, the Variations on a Hungarian Theme, or the op. 39 Waltzes.
All of the material here dates from the 1950s, and almost all of it has circulated for years in variously combined reissued sets and singles. The exceptions are the two rhapsodies and the three intermezzos on Volume I, which are the first release on CD of these Decca recordings. Also, all items on both volumes are in mono, with the exception of the Sonata and the Scherzo on Volume II, recorded in stereo in Hanover’s Beethovensaal in January 1957. Most of the rest of the works were recorded in London’s Decca studios, except for the Piano Concerto, which was recorded in Dresden’s Kreuzkirche in May 1957.
Obviously, there is some duplication here, with the two Rhapsodies showing up twice, but in different performances. On Volume I, they’re heard in a recording from November 1953, made in London ; and in Volume II, they’re heard in a recording from March 1950, also made in the same Westhampton Decca studio.
My above-stated fondness for Kempff, the pianist, does not, unfortunately, extend to any admiration I have for Kempff, the man ; for not unlike a number of his German near-contemporary musicians — such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Walter Gieseking, and Wilhelm Backhaus — Wilhelm Kempff (1895–1991) is known to have cozied up to the Nazis and freely allowed himself to be used to advance their political agenda. This may well be why Kempff wasn’t welcome in the U.S. until 1964, when he finally made his American debut at the age of 69. Like Karajan, Kempff first needed to be rehabilitated before he could be accepted into civilized society. But Kempff was already well-known from his recordings on this side of the Atlantic well before he set foot on U.S. soil. His 1950s Beethoven sonata cycle for Deutsche Grammophon was a best seller.
Kempff’s heart and soul may have been with the mainstream 19th-century Austro-German Romantics — again, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms (was there virtually no Mendelssohn in the mix because the composer’s music was banned by the Nazis?), but Kempff’s hands and fingers were those of a classically trained pianist, and it has been said of his technique that it was not as reliable as one might expect of an artist of such high repute. This may explain why Kempff didn’t take on Brahms’s Second Concerto. In any case, his classically poised approach to the Romantic repertoire produced performances that were less flamboyant in their presentation than the more bravura, flashier virtuosic style of playing practiced by two of Kempff’s close chronological contemporaries, Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz.
Kempff’s performance of the D-Minor Piano Concerto with Franz Konwitschny and the Dresden Staatskapelle tends to reinforce my theory that tempos in Brahms’s concertos seem to have gotten slower over the last 50 years or so. A number of recent versions by Hélène Grimaud, Cédric Tiberghien, and Krystian Zimerman all stretch the first movement out to somewhere between 23 and 24 minutes. Kempff and Konwitschny get it done in 21 minutes flat, just three seconds off the 20:57 mark of Kapell and Mitropoulos in 1953.
The recording team captured Kempff’s piano and the Dresden orchestra in excellent mono sound, and I really like the performance for its direct and unfussy reading, which nonetheless exhibits a strong backbone and a commanding character.
Kempff’s performances of the two Rhapsodies substantiate my point about the pianist’s less flamboyant approach. His tempos, both in 1950 (on Volume II) and again in 1953 (Volume I) are to the measured side of many current-day readings, in which not a few players like to put their virtuosic stamp on these works. One senses in Kempff’s performances an artist plumbing the depths rather than skimming the surfaces.
It’s this Innigkeit in Kempff’s playing that is especially so well suited to Brahms’s four sets of late Piano Pieces, and it’s the same penetrating concentration and intimacy that make Kempff’s Schubert special as well.
Given the vintage of these mostly mono recordings, the sound is really much better than might be expected. For those familiar with Wilhelm Kempff’s artistry, no pleading the case for these two duo-packs is necessary. For those not familiar with Kempff, but who wish to hear one of the 20th-century’s great legacy pianists of the German Classical tradition, I can strongly recommend these Brahms collections to you.
Jerry Dubins

Source :

Wilhelm Kempff
Johannes Brahms

Vol. 1

Cd. 1

Rhapsodies, Op. 79
1 N° 1 in B minor (Agitato)  9:27
2 N° 2 in G minor (Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro)  7:27

Ballades, Op. 10
3 N° 1 in D minor (Andante) [after the Scottish ballad 'Edward']  4:04
4 N° 2 in D major (Andante - Allegro non troppo)  6:20
5 N° 3 in B minor (Intermezzo)  4:00
6 N° 4 in B major (Andante con moto - Più lento)  8:11

Piano Pieces, Op. 76
7 Capriccio in F-Sharp minor (Un poco agitato)  3:04
8 Capriccio in B minor (Allegretto non troppo)  3:32
9 Intermezzo in A-Flat major (Grazioso)  2:34
10 Intermezzo in B-Flat major (Allegretto grazioso)  2:31
11 Capriccio in C-Sharp minor (Agitato, ma non troppo presto)  3:23
12 Intermezzo in A major (Andante con moto)  3:40
13 Intermezzo in A minor (Moderato semplice)  3:02
14 Capriccio in C major (Grazioso ed un poco vivace)  3:43


Cd. 2

Fantasias, Op. 116
1 Capriccio in D minor (Presto energico)  2:48
2 Intermezzo in A minor (Andante)  3:09
3 Capriccio in G minor (Allegro passionato)  3:00
4 Inytermezzo in E major (Adagio)  4:06
5 Intermezzo in E minor (Andante con grazia)  3:09
6 Intermezzo in E major (Andantino teneramente)  2:40
7 Capriccio in D minor (Alegro agitato)  2:36

Inermezzi, Op. 117
8 N° 1 in E-Flat major (Andante moderato)  5:04
9 N° 2 in B-Flat minor (Andante npon troppo e con molto espressione)  4:17
10 N° 3 in C-Sharp minor (Andante con molto)  5:06

Piano Pieces, Op. 118
11 Intermezzo in A minor (Allegro non assai)  2:06
12 Intermezzo in A major (Andante teneramente)  4:28
13 Ballade in G minor (Allegro energico)  3:57
14 Intermezzo in F minor (Allegretto un poco agitato)  2:49
15 Romanze in F major (Andante)  3:46
16 Intermezzo in E-Flat minor (Andante, largo e mesto)  4:54

Piano Pieces, Op. 119
17 Intermezzo in B minor (Adagio)  3:37
18 Intermezzo in E minor (Andantino un poco agitato)  5:01
19 Intermezzo in C major (Gazioso e giocoso)  1:47
20 Rhapsody in E-Flat major (Allegro risoluto)  5:17


Vol. 2

Cd. 1

Piano Concerto n° 1 in D minor, Op. 15
1 I. Maestoso - Poco più moderato  21:00
2 II. Adagio  12:29
3 III. Rondo (Allegro non troppo)  11:59

Rhapsodies, Op. 79
4 N° 1 in B minor (Agitato)  8:02
5 N° 2 in G minor (Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro)  7:08

Intermezzi, Op. 117
6 N° 1 in E-Flat major (Andante moderato)  4:44
7 N° 2 in B-Flat minor (Andante non troppo e con molto espressione)  3:57
8 N° 3 in C-Sharp minor (Andante con moto)  5:05


Cd. 2

1 Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel in B-Flat major, Op. 24  24:28
Aria · Variation 1 · Variation 2 · Variation 3 · Variation 4 (Risoluto) · Variation 5 (Espressivo)
 Variation 6 · Variation 7 (Con vivacità) · Variation 8 · Variation 9 (Poco sostenuto) · Variation 10
Variation 11 · Variation 12 · Variation 13 (Largamente, ma non più) · Variation 14 · Variation 15 · Variation 16 Variation 17 (Più mosso) · Variation 18 · Variation 19 (Leggiero e vivace) · Variation 20 · Variation 21 · Variation 22 · Variation 23 (Vivace e staccato) · Variation 24 · Variation 25 · Fuga

Piano Sonata n° 3 in F minor, Op. 5
2 I. Allegro maestoso  8:59
3 II. Andante : Andante espressivo - Poco più lento - Andante molto Adagio  10:21
4 III. Scherzo. Allegro energico - Trio  4:52
5 IV. Intermezzo (Rückblick). Andante molto  3:02
6 V. Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato - Più mosso - Presto - Tempo I  7:23

8 Scherzo in E-Flat minor, Op. 4  8:53
Rasch und feurig (Presto con fuoco) - Trio I - Trio II. Molto espressivo
Più mosso - Più sostenuto


Wilhelm Kempff - p
Dresden Staatskapelle, Franz Konwitschny - cond. [Vol. 2, cd. 1, # 1-3]

Recorded at Kreuzkirche, Dresden, Germany ; May 2 & 3, 1957 [Piano Concerto n° 1 Op. 15] ; Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany ; January 3, 1957 [Handel Variations Op. 24, Sonata Op. 5 & Scherzo Op. 4] ; Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK ; March 23 & 24, 1950 [Intermezzi Op. 117 (vol.1, cd.2) & Piano Pieces, Op. 118] ; March 24, 1950 [Rhapsodies Op. 79 (vol.2, cd.1)] ; May 23, 26 & 27 and November 23 & 26, 1953 [Ballades, Op. 10. Piano Pieces Op. 76. Rhapsodies Op. 79 (vol.1, cd.1). Fantasias, Op. 116 & Piano Pieces, Op. 119] ; May & November 1953 [Intermezzi Op. 117 (vol.2, cd.1)]


glinka21 said...

One of Dubins' better reviews. Kempff could be small-scaled and unimaginative, but when he was on top, as in some of the sonatas in his first Beethoven traversal, he's a worldbeater. Nice choice.

Ананасий Непитин said...

this set contains a rendition of Brahms' 1st piano concerto done by Kempff and Konwitschny. it seems to me still staying unrivaled. tremendous, awesome approach.

david said...

thank you very much !

Unknown said...

Would you reupload the links above? Thank you!

Melanchthon said...

Part. 1
Part. 2

NagaYama said...

Thanks Melanchthon for these link updates and for this wonderful music by a great mucisian

beep said...

The links are gone from zippyshare. Could you please restore them? Thanks!