- Performer: Wilhelm Kempff
- Composer: Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin
- Audio CD (15 July 1997)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Classic Sound
- ASIN: B0000042ER
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 437,644 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
|1. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: I Grave - Doppio Movimento|
|2. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: II Scherzo|
|3. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: III Marche Funebre (Lento)|
|4. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: IV: Finale: Presto|
|5. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Impromptu No. 1 In A Flat Major, Op. 29|
|6. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Impromptu No. 2 In F Sharp Major, Op. 36|
|7. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Impromptu No. 3 In G Flat Major, Op. 51|
|8. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Fantaisie-Impromptu No. 4 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 66|
|9. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Berceuse In D Flat Major, Op. 57|
|10. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Barcarolle In F Sharp Major, Op. 60|
|11. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Nocturne In B Major, Op. 9 No. 3|
|12. Piano Sonata No.2 In B Flat Minor, Op.35: Scherzo No. 3 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 39|
Just recently I have reviewed volume 2 of Wilhelm Kempff plays Chopin masterpieces and now I am approaching volume 1. The first item on this CD is Chopin's famous Sonata in Bb minor, Op. 35. Listening to this great and popular work countless times plus hearing most of the great pianists in recordings and on the concert stage, I am somewhat puzzled. Is Wilhelm Kempff just sight-reading the sonata? I hate to say that he is making mistakes as if misjudging the work. I accept occasional wrong notes in live performances, but studio recordings? After all in the studio all the mistakes can and are always corrected. Probably most of us will agree that we are dealing with one of five or six greatest keyboard giants of the 20th century. Therefore, I will rather accept the view of a music critic Jeremy Siepmann, who in his notes for this CD makes the following statement, "Kempff's approach could be decidedly quirky as some listeners may find in his rather idiosyncratic account of Chopin's great Bb minor Sonata, which veers from the almost neo-Scarlatian to moments of bombast and rhythmic heaviness, alternate with flashes of inspired poetic visions."
In the four Impromptus Berceuse in Db Major, Op. 57, Barcarolle in F# Major, Nocturne in B Major, Op. 9, No. 3 and the Scherzo in C# minor, Op. 39 you will hear performances of poetic playing, inspired lyricism and exceptional clarity. As pianist, Alfred Brendel stated, "At his best, he plays more beautifully that any of us." The previous statement by the famous pianist of our time applies definitely to some of the above recordings just to mention the Impromptus, Barcorolle, Berceuse and the Nocturne; all are five star performances. Despite the idiosyncratic performance of the Sonata, the rest on this CD is very beautifully played and the stereo sound of 1958 is excellent. Very highly recommended for every music lover.
I really couldn't imagine Kempff playing Chopin, in spite of his excellence at Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, so I had to hear it. Perhaps I was biased by my modest expectations, but I have to give this one a very poor rating.
The first movement begins in a very promising way, with strength and elegance. Within a few bars, however, Kempff begins to miss notes, generally in the stretti passages. This quickly becomes a wayward, haphazard attempt at a performance. The emotional center of gravity in this movement is bars 138 - 153, a great challenge and opportunity for the interpreter, and here Kempff gets completely lost. He misses many notes, especially in the left hand octaves, and worse, he holds back both volume and tempo. Where Pollini or Sokolov can make this passage shine with an exquisite clarity, Kempff is a mess. For the rest of the movement, the fast passages are rushed, at best, while many of the quieter passages have the eloquence so common in Kempff's other recordings.
The second movement is somewhat less demanding and less problematic, though there are still many missed notes and a general sameness of rhythm. The "piu lento" is too fast - in fact it sounds more like a waltz in strict tempo.
The famous funeral march is indeed stiff. The middle passage (bars 31 -38) are sweetly played but the return of the main motif is murky, with the bass notes overemphasised.
And the finale is a washout, too slow (possibly the slowest I've heard), with notes detached, not legato. Kempff seems confused, directionless. He's tiptoeing past the graveyard while the wind whistles past his ears.
As for the rest of the disc (the four Impromptus, Berceuse, Barcarolle, Scherzo #3, etc.) recorded the same year but possibly at a different session, these performances are wonderful. No problems at all, only a few slight technical problems in the Scherzo, and no interpretive gaffes. How can this be? It's almost like two different performers. The Sonata has all of Kempff's shortcomings displayed at their worst - rigidity, literalness, dry tone. But he's obviously capable of playing Chopin nearly as well as any other German of his generation.