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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