Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wilhelm Kempff Plays Beethoven (Pre-War 78-rpm recordings)

Kempff was to approach the recording of the Beethoven sonatas three times — a complete cycle on mono LPs from the early 1950s, a stereo LP cycle from the 1960s, and a nearly complete cycle (excluding eight of the 32) on Polydor (Grammophon) 78s. Indeed, in this early period several of the most popular sonatas were recorded more than once ; first by the ‘acoustic’ process, up to 1925, and then subsequently, by the improved ‘electrical’ process. Turning to the earliest of these recordings of the sonatas, it is remarkable that while Schnabel has remained, in both the critical and public view, as the Beethoven pianist par excellence — his very name synonymous with Beethoven — Kempff made the first commercial recordings of the Op. 81a, Op. 90 and Op. 101 sonatas. Whereas Schnabel’s recordings date from the thirties, Kempff’s disc of Op. 101 was made as early as 1925 and is a late ‘acoustic’ recording (it was the only sonata from the acoustic period not to be remade as an ‘electric’ 78 and is thus in significantly poorer sound quality than the other sonatas included here). For Polydor, Kempff’s German recordings were clearly seen as a rival — and certainly a contrast — to Schnabel’s London-based discs. Comparing Polydor’s invaluable if incomplete set with Kempff’s later recordings the listener is made aware of differences and similarities. By his own admission Kempff was later to play fast movements slower and slow movements faster. Earlier, there is a greater sense of something only a great actor or performing musician can afford, a throw-away manner disguising inwardness, an outwardly off-the-cuff style. While others (Backhaus, Arrau and, indeed, Schnabel) placed Beethoven on a heavier diet, Kempff kept him slim, lithe and light-footed. While Schnabel achieved his unique eloquence very much through his own more rugged and purposeful sound, Kempff’s shimmering sonorities (balanced very much from the top or treble) shed a different and numinous light. He was the reverse of ponderous and, whether you saw him as too gemiltlich or as a wayward genius, he was always true to his own lights. Kempff was always indelibly Kempff. Turning to the eight sonatas included here you find a bewildering mix of affirmation and surprise, of profundity and caprice. Who other than Kempff could open Op. 78 (among Beethoven’s own favourites) with such a sense of wonder, before countering in the following Allegro with a springing step, synonymous with his grace and fluency ? Typical, too, is the playing-down of the left-hand accentuation as the Allegro gets under way, almost as if you were being told that the average — or more than average — Beethoven pianist protests too much, underlines and tries too hard. Again, from a pianist always ready to foil your expectations, there is in the opening of ‘Les Adieux’, an espressivo, an eloquence that achieves a powerful sense of questioning, of alternating resignation and defiance. The central Andante is fast-flowing rather than heavy or pressured, while the finale provides a dazzling reminder that Kempff could play the virtuoso to the hilt. Vivacissimamente, his playing scintillates in its evocation of a return to happiness and to final exultance...
© Bryce Morrison, 2016, from the booklet

Wilhelm Kempff

The Late Beethoven Sonatas


Cd. 1

Piano Sonata n° 24 in F-Sharp major, Op. 78
1 I. Adagio cantabile - Allegro, ma non troppo  3:39
2 II. Allegro vivace  2:58

Piano Sonata n° 26 in E-Flat major "Les Adieux", Op. 81a
3 I. Adagio - Allegro  6:42
4 II. Andante espressivo  3:24
5 III. Vivacissimamente  4:09

Piano Sonata n° 27 in E minor, Op. 90
6 I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck  4:59
7 II. Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen  8:38

Piano Sonata n° 29 in B-Flat major "Hammerklavier", Op.106
8 I. Allegro  8:45
9 II. Scherzo. Assai vivace - Presto  2:41
10 III. Adagio sostenuto, appassionato e con molto sentimento  18:15
11 IV. Largo - Allegro - Allegro risoluto  11:51


Cd. 2

Piano Sonata n° 28 in A major, Op. 101
1 I. Allegretto ma non troppo  3:32
(Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung)
2 II. Vivace alla marcia (Lebhaft, marschmäßig)  3:59
3 III. Adagio ma non troppo, con affetto (Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll)  2:55
4 IV. Allegro (Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit)  5:34

Piano Sonata n° 30 in E major, Op. 109
5 I. Vivace, ma non troppo - Adagio espressivo  3:27
6 II. Prestissimo  2:19
7 III. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo  8:32
(Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung)

Piano Sonata n° 31 in A-Flat major, Op. 110
8 I. Moderato cantabile molto espressivo  6:37
9 II. Allegro molto  1:38
10 III. Adagio, ma non troppo - Fuga. Allegro, ma non troppo  9:46

Piano Sonata n° 32 in C minor, Op. 111
11 I. Maestoso - Allegro con brio ed appassionato  7:11
12 II. Arietta. Adagio molto semplice e cantabile  15:56


Wilhelm Kempff - p

Recorded between 1925 & 1936

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Historicus said...

Great, APR makes excellent non-invasive sound restorations. The first Kempff's recordings are not so common!

Thanks a lot!

Pedro del Castillo Alonso said...

I like so much your music

theblueamos said...

Thank you so very much.Best wishes from Jerusalem.

Olde Edo said...

Dear Melanchthon,
Thank you so much for sharing these treasures, and also for carefully preparing them with information in the files, and with scans! Sometimes I receive things in a hurry without properly thanking you -- apologies for my impoliteness.
Recently you almost seem to be reading my mind -- whenever I start thinking about some composer or performer, suddenly your new gifts appear! Nikita Magaloff, this Beethoven, Erroll Garner, etc., really it seems miraculous!
With best wishes and much gratitude!

Ананасий Непитин said...

as always, great.
thanks a lot, dear Mel!

Anonymous said...

Could you reupload this set? please... and thank you for all your posts

Anonymous said...

Please restore the links!

crispi said...

Never enough Kempff! Would appreciate a re-up, I haven't listened to this set yet.

Melanchthon said...

Anonymous said...

Yet another fabulous re-post, thanks so much dear MM ("The Beast" is your new nick in my book)

ben bsy said...

Hi, I am not able to find a password.
maybe I am blind...