‘When he is at his best he plays more beautifully than any of us’ wrote Alfred Brendel on the pianism of Wilhelm Kempff. Eloquence is proud to announce a mini-edition devoted to some of the rarer recordings of Wilhelm Kempff, born in 1895 at Jüterbog, the son of a church organist. By 1916, Kempff was firmly established as a soloist in Europe following many appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic under Nikisch, and as a teacher (he became director of the Musikhochschule, Stuttgart, in 1924). In the 1930s, he gained a reputation in Beethoven’s sonatas, which he took around the world. Curiously, he did not appear in London until 1951, nor America until 1964. Apart from a period with Decca in the 1950s, Kempff was a Deutsche Grammophon artist for over 60 years, beginning in 1920. He continued to perform well into his 80s, and gave his final concert in 1981. From 1957 he had given annual courses at his home in Positano, Italy, where he died in 1991.
The two volumes of Kempff plays Brahms focuses on his 1950s recordings from both, the Decca and Deutsche Grammophon catalogues. Volume I features shorter pieces – the miniature Brahms, so to speak. Volume II features his only recording of the First Piano Concerto, and goes on to include the 1957 Deutsche Grammophon recordings of the Third Sonata, the Op. 4 Scherzo and the Handel Variations, as well as two curiosities – the two Rhapsodies, Op. 79 from 1950 and the Op. 117 Intermezzi from 1953, both recorded for Decca, and both receiving their first release on CD. Correspondingly, the 1953 recording of the Rhapsodies and the 1950 recording of the Intemezzi appear on Volume I.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
Rhapsodies, Op. 79
Intermezzi, Op. 117
Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel in B flat major, Op. 24
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5
Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Recording Producers: Wolfgang Lohse (Piano Concerto No. 1); Karl-Heinz Schneider (Handel Variations); Hans Ritter (Sonata, Scherzo); unknown (Rhapsodies), John Culshaw (Intermezzi)
Recording Engineers: Heinrich Keilholz (Piano Concerto No. 1); Heinz Wildhagen (Handel Variations); unknown (Rhapsodies, Intermezzi)
Recording Locations: Kreuzkirche, Dresden, Germany, 2–3 May 1957 (Piano Concerto No. 1); Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany, 3 January 1957 (Handel Variations, Sonata, Scherzo); Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, 24 March 1950 (Rhapsodies), May & November 1953 (Intermezzi)
‘great imagination and subtlety … Kempff plays always with grace and the most intimate sentiment. He never prettifies the pieces on the one hand, nor on the other makes them too solid, but gives thoughtful, reflective performances – it is sometimes almost as if we overheard Brahms thinking. … one can recommend the disc without reservations.’ (Decca 1953 recordings) Gramophone, 1954
‘The two Brahms Rhapsodies are possibly the finest performances these works have ever received on disc’ (Op. 79) Fanfare
‘almost anything played by this keyboard titan is worth hearing’ International Piano
‘poetry in almost every phrase’ Gramophone