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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos.4 & 5
Format: Audio CDChange
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79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2002
Kempff himself, according to the interesting insert, described the 4th concerto as "the most beautiful of all piano concertos". In Kempff's hands it seems hard to disagree.
I always felt Maurizio Pollini to be the greatest Beethoven pianist, but having now heard Kempff I am not so sure. The two are in any case very similar: poetic and sensitive, almost Chopin-esque in performance, but where necessary supremely powerful. This is such a beautiful reading from all concerned, exceptionally delicate and subtle, but also at times passionate and intense.
In the 5th concerto the players again excel. There is here a true gravitas, a greatness heard immediately in the opening introduction. Once more Kempff manages the almost impossible: to combine sensitivity with power in exactly the right mix and at exactly the right moment.
The accompaniment of the Berlin Philharmonic under Ferdinand Leitner is quite superb. Leitner's stately pacing is spot on, matching Kempff perfectly. Listen especially to the slow movement of the 4th concerto with its incredibly successful mixture of Kempff's sensitivity and the orchestra's lushness, strength and depth. The chemistry here is electric.
These are absulutely magnificent readings by musicians at the height of their powers. Kempff lived to the age of 95, so at 66, as he was here, and as he sounds, he was still youthful. And is it not unreasonable to suggest that the mighty B.P.O. were also at their height? Karajan had honed them into a great Beethoven orchestra then, the complete symphonies having been recorded at that time to great acclaim. Even now most agree these performances have not been eclipsed.
Despite the age of the recordings (1961) the 4th concerto sounds gorgeous. However, the sound quality of the 5th is a tad mushy at times, but this is slight criticism. It cannot detract from the legendary performances. Indeed, the age of the recordings almost adds to the atmosphere, a sense of a great occasion from the past we have been priviledged to share.
The disc is offered at bargain price too. I would gladly have paid more for such greatness.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This set of performances has been in my CD collection for decades and I have loved them from the start. Since then I have added other fine performances by other respected world-class pianists but none of them have surpassed Kempff's achievement here.

Kempff was famed for his absolute clarity of articulation and his subtlety of touch. His approach was very classical and this variety of touch giving variety to his phrasing was never at the expense of maintaining a tight rhythmical control. Furthermore he never exceeded the tonal limitations of the piano so there are no examples of undue heaviness, twanging strings or thumping foot pedals.

One consistent oddity to his Beethoven concertos and sonatas was a tendency to play the slow movements at a slightly faster tempo than was usual thus creating a forward sense of flow. The outer movements were often slightly steadier than was usual so, coupled with his rhythmic control and light touch, these movements dance more joyfully than usual. I have always been convinced by this readjustment of tempo balance within works.

All of this is to be found in abundance in these readings, both in the concertos and in the sonata.

The orchestral balance is more perfect than is often the case. Every one of the woodwind's crucial dialogue phrases with the piano and with each other are clearly audible as are the string's rhythmical accompanying chords etc. This perfect blend is due to a combination of faithful recording balance, good conducting and sensitive pianism.

The sonata recording is drier and for that reason I have always preferred the sound of his earlier mono set. Nevertheless the performance still remains as outstanding as the concertos although it will be for the concertos that this box set will most likely be bought.

I have always found these discs to be a joy from start to finish. To paraphrase The Gramophone from years ago I would suggest that to hear Kempff playing Beethoven is like listening to Beethoven speaking to us directly without an intermediary. Kempff playing Beethoven was a very special talent and we are lucky to have such fine recordings of it. I would suggest that this set should therefore warrant serious consideration from all lovers of Beethoven's piano concertos and collectors of fine piano playing. There are others though who prefer the set with van Kempen conducting so I would suggest trying to listen to both sets first before choosing.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2007
Beethoven's last two concertos never sounded more poetic than in the hands of Kempff: his playing has such grace and poise. Concerto Number 4 is particular is ravishing, and this record is without doubt an essential purchase for any music lover. Love this!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2009
Beethoven's piano concertos are all masterpieces. It is only 4 & 5 that really break the Mozartian mould but all five are wonderful pieces of music in their own right. The early ones do sound rather like Mozart. So what. Is this a bad thing? We don't criticise Mozart for sounding like Mozart.

Although 5 is the grandest and probably still the most popular, my personal favourites are 3 & 4

The versions discussed are all good versions, by first-class pianists with excellent conductors and orchestras, which will undoubtedly give lots of listening pleasure.

I got to know Beethoven's piano concertos via Wilhelm Kempff's stereo cycle and via Stephen Kovacevich, and both remain benchmarks for me in different ways. In music you often fall in love with what you hear first and that's how it is for me.

Kempff's playing (on DG) is magical in all five as is Leitner's orchestral accompaniment with the Berlin Philharmonic. Kempff's style is essentially classical throughout so no bombast or overstatement but no awkwardness or ugliness. Evenness of quality throughout means every single moment of every movement is a pleasure to listen to. Still, some might find these performances lacking in the very last ounce of strength e.g. at the commencement of the recapitulation in 4/1 (see next paragraph). In 4/3 there is diamond precision and drama. The analogue recording is good - not just for the 1960's - good period.

Kovacevich and Davis on Philips. A different kind of magic - Kovacevich has all the ruggedness, strong contrasts and raw emotion that some might miss in Kempff. 4/1 is absolutely magnificent: compare the same moment at the start of the recapitulation, when the piano almost jumps out of the speakers - Kovacevich delivering Beethoven at his most noble and majestic. 4/3 however sounds too hard-driven for me by comparison with Kempff. Then again the slow movement in 3 is wonderfully played - the opening bars are very poignant and searching indeed. But in the slow movement in 5, the piano entry is too quiet - inaudible above the orchestral background. The quality is uneven then, but at their best these performances are unequalled and I would not be without them. Analogue recording is fine - better than Kempff unsurprisingly since recorded about ten years later.

Uchida and Sanderling also on Philips. Mitsuko Uchida's recordings of the Mozart piano sonatas and concertos both receive praise, although some find the concertos too prettified and insufficiently robust in her hands. This description might also be applied to Uchida's Beethoven - lovely playing from pianist and orchestra, but, more so than Kempff, lacking strength. Still there is plenty to enjoy all the way through, no shortage of drama, and some very fine moments e.g. the closing moments of 3/1 could hardly be played better - utterly spellbinding. Excellent digital recording.

Perahia and Haitink on CBS. In many ways with Perahia you get the best of both worlds, refinement and strength (plus digital recording). His magnificent piano playing has all the consistent sparkle of Kempff together with the wide dynamic range and dramatic contrasts of Kovacevich, matched all the way by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. In all fairness these are probably the finest versions I know of all five concertos and I can strongly recommend them. Inevitably at times I think ah yes but Kempff does this or Kovacevich does that, but I am sure anyone coming to these concertos for the first time would easily find plenty to delight and fall in love with. Take for instance the last moments of 3/3 when the music modulates from minor to major...... Not to say that other versions aren't worth having......
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2011
probably the best version of both concertos that I have heard. A
really good recording that you would expect from Deutche
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2008
The best 4th by far. Kempff for me is as close to what beethoven would have wanted, full of emotion but never overstated. Recorded in 1962 sound is as good as you could expect. I love pollini's recordings too but I must recommend Gilels/szell's fifth as it is still the best for me.
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on 31 May 2014
Wilhelm Kempff was one of the greatest interpreters of Beethoven's piano music. His recordings of the piano sonatas and the piano concertos exhibit a poetry of pianism that is rare in the huge discography of the great composer's piano music.
Beethoven is my favourite composer. I have numerous recordings of his symphonies and concertos. Of the piano concertos, I have over twenty different versions including most of the noteworthy releases of the last fifty years. In my judgement, in terms of musical poetry and profundity of interpretative approach, this coupling of Beethoven's fourth and fifth piano concertos is one of the best available at any price. Technically, from an audiophile's viewpoint, there are better recordings. Try, for example, Schiff/Haitink or Tillner/Nagano. But, I don't really think you will find a better one in terms of musical poetry and imagination.
Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2012
Kempff is one of my two favourites in the PCs 4 and 5, the other being Gieseking. I'm not sure that this DG recording is the best of Kempff - I like his Van Kempen 4th - but it's the better recorded. Gieseking, however, is equally mystical and poetic and it's hard to choose between them.
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on 9 March 2013
I lost my Ashkenazy version,having left it in my car CD player when I sold it. I was a little iffy about recording quality
being this Kempff recording was 50 yrs ago. I neednt have been, the sound quality was excellent. Good purchase
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This is the CD of the original vinyl recording which I grew up with. Some great memories, and Wilhelm Kempf still amazes me by the way he played these pieces at over 80 years old.
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