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28 Jun 1999

Repertoire with the most exuberant spirit of adventure

By Lionel Choi

Piano Works by Schumann: Carnaval, Op 9; Humoreske, Op 20; Arabeske, Op 18; Toccata, Op 7 Freddy Kempf, piano (BIS CD-960)

IN A time when glittery surface artifices, flashy fireworks and glamour seem to matter more than heart and soul, Robert Schumann might seem like an unlikely choice for a debut recording by a modern-day young virtuoso pianist.

Yet, 21-year-old Freddy Kempf -- blessed with a fierce intelligence, colourful imagination, incredible fingers and, of course, fresh youthful inspiration -- proves otherwise as he demonstrates a rare and remarkable gift for illuminating the darkest abyss of the Romantic composer's troubled genius.

Throughout all 72 minutes of this astonishing debut disc, he approaches this well-loved repertoire with the most refreshing and exuberant spirit of adventure, graced by fancy, charm and interpretative wisdom, and always penetrating to the music's innermost, Germanic heart.

Not since Radu Lupu's revealing performance of the Humoreske has there been a more moving account than Kempf's.

With his prodigious ability to embrace every level of Schumann's dizzying changes of mood and pace with stirring ardour and the most artful natural sense of flow, Kempf gives the work an almost enigmatic character, imbued with a truly radiant Romantic glow.

There is stiffer competition in the Carnaval, but Kempf's kaleidoscopic reading can hold its head high alongside the very best. In his hands, it starts by ringing and resonating with a commanding grandeur, before embarking on a series of little sketches with dazzlingly varied character.

Whether teasing and flirting (in Arlequin and Coquette, for example), fluttering with the most lightweight animation (Papillons and Reconnaissance), or lingering in touching poetry (Chopin and Aveu), Kempf encompasses all with delectable charm and multifarious personality, capped by a stunning unifying vision.

Eusebius dreams with intense rapture, while Florestan darts between cajoling with impish humour and pirouetting with passionate energy.

A growing and momentous Pause leads persuasively into the highly charged, swaggering and unmistakably victorious march of David over the Philistines.

The two remaining shorter pieces that complete this disc are sharply contrasted. While the Arabeske has a wonderfully liquid lyrical simplicity, the Toccata is a terrific gallery of fearless pianistic bravura: Horowitz springs to mind as one gasps at the lightness of touch and the teasing out of details in polyphony with songful clarity, all happening at lightning speed yet not sounding in the least bit rushed.

Many young talents come and go. This one, however, happens to be the real thing.

Freddy Kempf's debut CD of Schumann's piano works is available at leading music stores

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