5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Still a set of definitive performances after all these years,
This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
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.
These discs are 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.
Having read numerous reviews, which amount to rave reviews, from other contributors favouring the earlier set from 1953 in remastered mono featuring Kempff and the BPO conducted by Van Kempen, I have just bought that set. I can only agree with those other reviewers and find the older set to benefit greatly from Van Kempen's livelier conducting which leads Kempff and the BPO to combine in markedly greater interactive playing. The recording is easily a match for the later stereo version as above with every detail clearly audible.
This does affect the 5 star grade for the stereo version listed above as it is still a leading contender for all the stated reasons. However, I would agree that there is real competition from Kempff's own mono recording.