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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

on 27 September 2016
Time defies explanation. Anyone who thinks that it can be encompassed with flimsy words such as seconds, hours and days is an Epsilon at best. Kempff in Schubert is the fearless Mariner of this mysterious current. His D 960 - as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be - is a masterly illumination of 'heavenly length' but in a way that can only be experienced, not explained. Forget the notes and bars: when does it really begin and end? I do not know. It's unfathomable. Here is the bird; this is the key.

Here are some thumbnail sketches:

D 960 - as above: will never be surpassed. It was not recorded in the usual sense with microphones in a studio - its origin is sub specie aeternitatis.

D 959 - lacks fire compared with Perahia Schubert/Schumann: Piano Sonatas ~ Perahia or Brendel IISchubert: Piano Sonata in A, D. 959; Hungarian Melody in B minor, D 817; 16 German Dances, D. 783; Allegretto in C minor, D. 915. A respectable performance but not a frontrunner.

D 958 - Staier comes close Schubert: Late Piano Sonatas: D958 & D959 but Kempff owns this sonata. His treatment of the interlude in the last movement is weightlessness itself.

D 894 - Fine as Kempff is, Brendel II is more enlightening, particularly in the all important finale Piano Sonatas

D 850 - Kempff's performance is as miraculous as D 960 above. Not to be missed. It merges with eternity in the final bars.

D 845 - There are plenty of fine performances of the A Minor in the marketplace and this is one of them.

D 840 - Schubert as Bruckner and Kempff is his prophet. Look no further.

D 784 - As per D 845 above. A fine performance that has not monopolised the market.

D 664 - another miracle of this set. Kempff as his most magical.

D 625 - ditto.

D 568 - Stately and serene, this is magisterial playing.

D 566 - what a work. Another peak in this cycle. Art as artlessness. One cannot imagine that he even practised it.

Most of these performances exude alchemy. Sure, there are more virtuoso readings elsewhere (such as Pollini) but in this instance, mundane considerations apply not.

This cycle was coined by Eternity; alternatives are mere gymnastics.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 January 2017
In his notes to his recording of the complete Schubert sonatas, Wilhelm Kempff quotes a comment about Schubert attributed to the composer's friend and patron, the singer Johann Michael Vogl:

"'You see', Vogl was usually heard to say in a low voice, indicating with a sideways glance, when Schubert stood lost in thought, unaware of his surroundings, "the man has no idea what is alive within him! It is an inexhaustible flood!"

With their introspection, long wandering themes, spontaneity, lyricism, and frequent pregnant pauses, Schubert's piano sonatas are an inexhaustible flood indeed. Most of Schubert's piano sonatas were ignored for years. Only in the mid-20th Century did they come into their own.

Kempff (1895 -- 1991) is best-known for his recordings of the complete Beethoven and Schubert sonata cycles. He recorded the Schubert sonatas between 1965 and 1969 in Hannover, Germany. The set is available in this 7-CD compilation from DG at a budget price. Kempff plays the sonatas with a restrained lyrical romanticism. The readings are quiet, meditative and focused. Kempff seldom loses sight of the broad structure of the music in its long, meandering passages.

I first got to know Schubert's sonatas long ago in LPs of Kempff's recordings of the final two: the A major sonata, D. 959 and the B-flat major sonata, D. 960. It was good to revisit these readings again after many other performances have been sandwiched between in the course of years. The A major, in particular, receives an outstanding performance as Kempff brings out the flailing sorrow of the second movement and the serene musical lyricism of the finale. Beyond these two final masterworks, I had not heard Kempff's Schubert sonatas until I purchased this set.

I wanted to hear Kempff's reading of an earlier A major sonata, D. 664, opus 120, because I have been learning to play it. Kempff plays this youthful work with, the slow movement excepted, a light joyful character. He also observes both Schubert's repeats in the opening movement. While Kempff's reading of this music is idiomatic and convincing, it reminded me of the many possibilities of interpretation for this deceptively simple and apparently naive score. I also enjoyed Kempff's readings of the sonata in a minor, D. 784, opus 143, a lyrical work of a different character from its A major companion that was composed at about the same time. It is among several of the many Schubert sonatas that deserve to be better known.

Other outstanding performances include the long, tragic c minor sonata, D. 958, part of the final trilogy composed in the last months of Schubert's life together with the A major, D. 959, and B-flat major, D. 960, sonatas. The extensive, late G major sonata, D. 894, opus 78, receives a somewhat lighter interpretation at Kempff's hands, than under many other readings of this transcendent work. Kempff brings out the heroic, large scale qualities of the D major sonata, D. 850, opus 53, the tragic qualities of the A minor sonata, D. 845, opus 42, and the stunning, unfinished sonata in C major, D. 840, known as the "Relique".

Besides Kempff's own introduction to the sonatas, this set includes a good introductory analysis, "Form and Feeling in the Schubert Sonatas" by John Reed together with a chronology. Both will be useful to the new listener. Given the music, the performance, and the low price, this set is a treasure both for listeners new to Schubert and to those listeners who have not yet heard Kempff's recordings. This is music to hear when you are alone with yourself.

Robin Friedman
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on 29 August 2008
Schubert's Piano Sonatas essentially are rather private and occasionally introspective works. They are more Wigmore Hall than Albert Hall and perhaps this is one reason why they are not so often included in public performances but "Hausmusik" these works are not.

Elliot Richman (in an earlier review to be found at Amazon US) has said "Modern players, despite their steel fingers and elephantine endurance and machine-like (sometimes machine-gun-like) techniques, stand to learn a lot from this old master's art." How true! Similar exemplars of Kempff's less frenetic approach include Clifford Curzon, Friedrich Wuhrer and Walter Gieseking. Perhaps in some measure it is appropriate that these Sonatas are bypassed by a few of today's heavy hitters on the international recital circuit for these intimate works do not respond well to modern robotics. I am reminded of Rosalyn Tureck's observation: "I have seen a diminution of passionate involvement in the art of music and I have seen a crescendo in passionate involvement with careers".

None of the Sonatas was publicly performed in Schubert's lifetime. This is a sad quirk of history and certainly not a reflection of their musical worth. After all, Beethoven had thirty of his Piano Sonatas published posthumously but in my view these lovely, often haunting Schubert gems are deserving of an appreciation very much wider than they seem to have; certainly beyond the B flat major and a couple of others which are better known.

Wilhelm Kempff's performance here is to his customary and uniquely high standard of interpretation and empathetic treatment; that alone makes this set a "must buy". Whilst the recordings can be a trifle woolly in places and probably would benefit from the digital magic which Deutsche Grammophon successfully has applied to some other older performances, the quality is entirely acceptable and any shortcomings are in no sense obtrusive.

I adore these pieces; it is very evident that Wilhelm Kempff does too.
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on 18 March 2015
wonderful. like Brendell. I would like Demidenko to do these Sonatas. They would be very different
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on 14 August 2017
I agree with other reviews that these performances are affectionate and on the whole gentle, though the music sometimes gets very violent, notably in the second movement of D959. I had previously known little apart from the last 3 sonatas, and was introduced to a wealth of lovely lyricism. My only caveat is that I find the tuning just a shade iffy. Is this just the imperfections of equal temperament (presumably what was used, given Schubert's key changes, e.g. sliding from Bb to Gb and back, then to f# in D960) or is it recording quality c. 1970? Neither, I think, as I have satisfactory recordings of the same period (Brendel playing Impromptus, Barenboim playing Beethoven). So that leaves faulty tuning of the piano, esp. in the upper regions). The irritation is slight, and may not trouble others, but I'm surprised that Kempff put up with it. Or was it what he wanted?
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on 17 November 2010
My greatest disappointment was not hearing Kempff live. I had tickets for a Sunday afternoon recital he was due to give at London's Royal Festival Hall late in his career, and it was only after taking our seats I discovered he had cancelled: we heard Shura Cherkassky instead. He was good - but I so wanted to hear Kempff!

These recordings were made over 4 years in the pianists late 60's/early 70's. The technique is still good - though there is the occasional splash [as in the last movement of D.784]. But their chief value is that Kempff allows us to hear Schubert as his friends must have heard him when he first played them in private. There is nothing at all flashy about the performances, no concert-hall projection, just intimate music making that gets to the heart of these elusive scores. Here we get 18 of the 21 sonatas which survive either complete or as fragments. Missing are sonatas #7 - D.567, #9 - D.571 with D.640 and D.570 i&ii, and #11 - D.613. Those unfinished by the composer are left as torsos, without any moderate [Badura Skoda] or radical [Tirimo] re-constructions and conjectural completions.

There are pianists who play these works with greater [often misplaced] bravura: but none, I suggest, who get to the heart of the music with such directness and selfless simplicity. These are performances to hear and hear again; and they warm the heart as few others can.

Edit: In a recent survey of all available recordings of Schubert's last sonata [D960] for 'Gramophone' magazine, Bryce Morrison chose Kempff's recording as the finest of all. [Kempff, incidentally, includes the first movement exposition repeat which many pianists omit.]
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 November 2013
on every level this is a fabulous box set. We get the complete set of Schubert Piano Sonatas. We get the complete recordings of these Piano Sonatas by the great Wilhelm Kempff. We get all this on seven CD discs all housed in card sleeves and all contained in a very slim box that is about an inch thick.
The set has so much going for it and it is nicely presented here.
The recordings were made in the late 1960s and the ADD digital remaster offers great sound and balance. There is slight tape hiss but nothing to worry about especially when you balance that out with the great performance by Kempff.
Kempff offers a warm and engaging interpretation of the sonatas and it is clear that he fully feels and understands them.
Having worked through the box set twice now I can say that there is a great sense of connection not only with Schubert but also Kempff in the atmosphere of the recordings.
This is a quality product and one to treasure. You cannot go wrong.
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on 18 September 2013
I have listened to and loved a number of 'complete' Schubert piano sonatas over the years. For some reason I came to this one last, indeed only because a friend raved so much about Kempff's Beethoven that I felt that I should hear this... Indeed I should!
Kempff's Schubert is very much like his Beethoven... Passionate, funny, humane, unique, gentle, creative. I'm sure a pianist will come along one day who will do more justice to these pieces than Mr Kempff, but it may well take a hundred years!
It is only in Kempff's recording that I really feel that I understand the reason of these pieces. Other pianists such as Mitsuko Uchida certainly understand this 'reason,' but none are able to perform them with quite the same amount of passion, in my humble opinion.
For certain individual sonatas I can think of recordings that I prefer, indeed that I live by. However, for the complete cycle I think that Kempff is the king.
The CD shows a wintery landscape with fences. That is such a good visual image of these pieces but it only shows half of the picture. Underneath it all should be a warm glow, unending, hopeful, divine.
Really, one of the great 'complete' recordings of the 20th century.
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on 23 October 2012
Superb value! Wilhelm Kempff is one of the all-time great pianists whose strengths make him the ideal Schubert interpreter. He is utterly unshowy, with a captivating blend of precision, sensitivity and spontaneity. He is perfectly attuned to the meditative, inward strain of many of Scubert's piano sonatas, whilst doing full justice to the Sturm und Drang and sudden explosions of his middle-period work.
My only reservation is that the recordings are in reverse order, with the latest work at the start of disc 1, and the earliest at the end of disc 7. If, like me, you like to follow the development of a composer's art from early works to later, it's a faff having to go to the last n tracks of the last disc and work backwards, but well worth the effort.
I found that coming to Schubert's piano sonatas after having listened to Beethoven's 32, I had to accept that Schubert is not Beethoven and what he has to offer requires different expectations.
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on 8 January 2018
No Review, Bought as Present
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