BBC Legends BBCL 4169-2, 78:26 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
A recital by the German pianist Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) given at Manchester University 7 October 1967 urges our capacity for understatement, certainly if the opening F Major Sonata of Mozart is any indication. We feel as if we had inadvertently intruded on the poet’s musing on the wonders of music. After two pearly movements, especially the sublime Adagio whose cantabile playing by Kempff had often proved the envy of his colleagues, the propulsive Allegro assai scampers brilliantly, with any number of subtle touches in accent and rhythm which, while hardly calling attention to themselves, contribute to a scintillating exhibition of controlled, intimate power. Such soft landings at cadences, along with a fine-tuned mezzo-piano of refined taste make for repeated hearings.
The sense of lyric outpouring permeates Schubert’s large B-flat Sonata, sans first movement exposition repeat. He also eschews the nine-bar, jagged ending he included in his DGG recording. Even the disturbed trill does not shatter the detached serenity that guides Kempff’s musical concept. The struggle is mostly implosive, the shifts of color and texture mark a refined chiaroscuro within a self-enclosed world. Purists may not warm to Kempff’s non-legato approach and use of rallentandi to create episodes within the compressed range of his dynamics. But for studied, diaphanous application of touch, the reading must be close to what Gieseking might have achieved here. The precise gradations of touch which haunt Schubert’s Andante sostenuto may strike some auditors as too contrived, but the elegiac Apollinian melancholy urges its way to a radiant, albeit introspective, peroration. Kempff’s leggierezza, the “con delicatezza” indication, rules the Scherzo, as the dark clouds dissipate, or at least yield to a resigned smile. A heartier, more aggressive patina infiltrates Kempff’s finale–with a few dropped notes here and there, even a shift into the wrong key–but the motoric flow and arched line maintain their grace and poetry. Some interesting pedal choices, even an occasional denial of the sustenuto pedal to create a dry effect. The last surge to the coda ripples with nervous energy.
Beethoven’s A Major Sonata, Op. 101 receives another “passive” reading, and even the dotted rhythms of the Scherzo suggest Eusebius in Schumann’s court of personae, since the movement influenced him greatly. The enigmatic Langsam movement makes a smooth transition to the animated, dancing figures of the Allegro, a quicksilver series of motions in frothy colors. Limpid fugato passages rush by, a kaleidoscopic entourage, wherein each moment is motivated by a spirit of celestial whimsy. Some solemn descents head towards the abyss, but they always pull back in a shower of lighted gestures. The two Brahms intermezzi might be construed as etudes in touching and halted singing line, especially the B Minor. The C Major suddenly surges into a moment of yearning, then scatters its poignancy to the four winds and a colossal ovation.