Freddy Kempf plays Schumann

Photos       [ Neil's pages:  News - Concerts    Quotes    MP3s    Schedule  ]       Find his CDs       Encore Why this page  

Freddy Kempf Plays Schumann (and does he ever)

Hear samples   (Amazon, with customer reviews) CD availability page


====Piano & Keyboard magazine, USA - Jul/Aug 2000====  
Freddy Kempf Plays Schumann:  Carnaval,
Toccata in C, op. 7, Arabesque in C, op. 18,
Humoresque in B-flat, op. 20. BIS-CD-960.
By Wes Blomster

Two pillars of Schumann's keyboard music separated by a pair of his essential shorter works stunningly played by an artist still new on the international scene make this a release that echoes the composer's own famous proclamation: "Hats off!"

Kempf plays the familiar Carnaval with joyous élan; he understands the perfection of each of these mini-Dionysian dithyrambs and weaves them together into a magnificently coherent tapestry. The fun with which he joins the Davidites in "socking it" to the Philistine establishment, is in itself sufficient reason to make the disc worth owning.

He is equally adept in the large-scale Humoresque, making - as Carl Kossmaly puts it - "the great variety of content and form, the continual and quick ... succession of the most varied images, imaginary ideas and sentiments, fantastic and dream-like phenomena swell and fade into one another ... from beginning to end".

Kempf, who was born in London in 1977 and who counts Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kurt Sanderling, and Isidore Cohen among his coaches, is a major young sensation of the keyboard in Europe...

Wes Blomster

====Clavier Magazine, USA,  November 1999====

A standout among contemporary pianists is relative newcomer Freddy Kempf, the British-born third-prize winner of the 1998 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. Since being hailed the hero of the competition by the Russian press, he has performed internationally, as soloist and chamber musician with the Kempf Trio. His solo debut C.D. Freddy Kempf Plays Schumann will simply knock your socks off.

At age 2l  Kempf is an astonishing talent; his affinity to Schumann's impassioned music is especially reminiscent of the legendary past where such pianists as Benno Moiseiwitsch and Vladimir Horowitz dared to play with imagination, spontaneity, and bravura.  As an interpreter of Schumann's works, Kempf's playing is slightly romanticized but demonstrates an understanding for musical nuance and an overwhelming command. This is not straight-laced piano playing, but over-powering stylistic maturity peppered with surging temperament.

Kempf’s Camaval is dynamic and insightful; he draws the listener into the ebb and flow of the work’s uninhibited rhythmic drive with luminous sound and technical fluency. His tempos are on the quick side, although the rapid-fire "Reconnaissance" and athletic "Paganini" are brilliant contrasts to the lyrical eloquence of "Chopin" and "Valse noble."

Kempf's fleet-fingered pyrotechnics in the Toccata convey the music without egocentric flashiness. He inclines towards the poetic in the Arabesque, and here a case could be argued for a more introspective approach and relaxed musical line. In time, his underlying musical sensibility should help calm a tendency toward flights of fantasy. Kempf’s performance of the Humoresque is on a par with Sviatoslav Richter's vintage recording.

The contrasts of mood and supple passagework propel the music and inspire the listener. In the opening of the Humoresque, he evokes a singing sound, then pushes the music’s counterpoint to exhilarating heights. Kempf has a distinctive personality, and I expect a lot from his forthcoming releases of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. (BIS C.D.-960)

Leonne Lewis

====The Sunday Times (London),   Dec. 12, 1999====

From "Records of the year"

Freddy Kempf, winner of the third prize in the 1998 Moscow Tchaikovksy Competition, makes an impressive recording debut with this Schumann recital, dominated by the cycles Carnaval and Humoresque.

Stephen Pettitt

      Times article

====BBC Music Magazine,  December 1999====

From "Critics' Choice - The Best CDs of 1999"

A remarkable debut disc for the young Englishman, feted at the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition, in which he won third prize. If that suggests a keyboard muscle man, here he is as poetic and sensitive as any lover of Schumann's music could wish. The underrated Arabeske and Humoreske are perhaps the best works here, though the Toccata and Carnaval are full of personal touches and the superb recording captures every shade of Kempf's magic touch.

Adrian Jack

====The Daily Telegraph (UK) ,  December 1999====

Geoffrey Norris offers their readers his article on   "A decade of classical music  gift-wrapped and tied up with strings"

On the right is a table borrowed from that article, Norris's list of memorable moments of the entire 90s, in classical music.

That Kempf won 3rd place in the Tchaikovsky Competition '98 would not normally be expected to rank very high in a short list of a decade's memories, but the apparent injustice of it (the Russians feeling this most of all) caused such a commotion, it became quite a 'moment' and helped launch a career which has seen the impact of Kempf 's playing on critics and audiences world-wide, with this CD receiving a highly favorable reception, and a new one (Rachmaninoff) to be released in a few months.

For information on this piece of history, and more, see Neil's official Freddy Kempf site

Also see the International Herald Tribune article by George Loomis , "Young Pianist Conquers Moscow"

Memorable moments

  • "Towards the Millennium" (from 1991)
  • First concerts in the new Symphony Hall, Birmingham (CBSO/Simon Rattle, 1991)
  • Daniel Harding's debut with the LSO (1996)
  • The premiere of Thomas Adès's major orchestral work, Asyla (1997)
  • Freddy Kempf comes third in the Moscow Tchaikovsky Piano Competition (1998)
  • Mstislav Rostropovich and the LSO's survey of Shostakovich's works (1998)
  • Hyperion's classic CD edition of Schubert songs reaches its 34th volume (1999)
  • Centennial seasons of the BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts (1995-6)
  • Classic FM launched (1992)
  • First issue of BBC Music Magazine (1992)

  • ===="Piano Wereld" -  Sept. 1999 (The Netherlands)====

    Freddy Kempf is an extraordinarily sensitive and virtuosic pianist who plays a wonderful Schumann recital:  Carnaval, Toccata, Arabesque and Humoresque. The opening of the Carnaval is grand and symphonic, the Toccata very fast with a marvellous rhythmic drive, but at the same time very dance-like and very imaginative with a genuine feel for detail and inner-voices. The Humoresque seems to be written especially for Kempf. The expression varies from boyish effusive to dreamlike introvert and melancholic. Kempf knows how to capture the swift mood-changes, and he characterises them very well.....Without a doubt he is one of the most interesting young pianists performing today. A must for Schumann-devotees.

    Eric Schoones

    ====Classic CD, July 1999====
    Rating:  5 Stars  (out of 5)


    Here is the authentic Schumann feeling - I imagine the German word'Stimmung' would fit. Freddy Kempf obviously loves the sound Schumann makes; the way he spaces chords, the way the melody line is counterpointed by secretive inner voices, and so on.

    His left hand is never a passenger, his right sings. You hear that quality particularly in the Humoresque, a 27' suite of pieces played continuously, which Schumann poured out in one inspired week. Kempf takes liberties with the score, but then almost everyone does. And sometimes Schumann asked for the impossible - a tempo for the Arabesque, for instance, that would make it breathlessly impulsive and virtually unplayable
    . . .
    He does take the Toccata fast (he took it still faster at the Wigmore Hall in April) and the way he necessarily eases off round sticky corners seems arch. Yet I can honestly say there is no better recording on a technical level, nor perhaps any so sheerly beautiful.
      . . .
    It's the unanticipated personal touches I particularly like - Kempf's impatient final cadence in Estrella, his sudden bursts of energy in Valse allemande. And he's got plenty in reserve for the final March, where Schumann characteristically forgot that room for acceleration wasn't infinite.

    The piano is a Yamaha and sounds very well-suited to this music. The recording is superb.

    Adrian Jack

    ====Gramophone’s International Piano Quarterly (IPQ)====
              Summer 1999

    It’s not difficult to see why Russian audiences should have gone bananas over Freddy Kempf at the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition. They recognize musical understanding when they hear it, and here is a young man who really plays music from the inside.  He certainly knows where Schumann in all his guises is coming from, which means knowing how to dream as well as recite, declaim and exult...

    Virtuosity is certainly there too, not in order to stun and amaze, but as a means to high ends ... the Toccata has an over-arching sense of fantasy to it as well as masterly exhilaration.

    ...[ the Humoresque ] is music which constantly seeks refuge by the domestic fireside, only to find yet more demons dancing in the flames; it is a major test of musicianly and human insight, from which Kempf emerges with enormous credit.

    In short, this debut recording is several cuts above the norm and has the feel of heralding a major career...

    David Fanning

    ===Penguin Record Guide (from the new edition)===

    Penguin Record Guide

    Reviewer David Hurwitz's new classical-reviews site

    Not since Murray Perahia's debut Schumann disc has a young player penetrated this mercurial composer's elusive sound world with the dramatic insight, stylistic affinity, harmonic and linear sophistication, and soaring emotion that 22-year-old Freddy Kempf imparts on these thrice-familiar works . . .
    . . . Otherwise, the Carnaval and Humoreske are thoroughly competitive with, and often superior to the best-recorded versions of these works.

    Jed Distler

    [For the full review and other reviews on this new site, go to the online ClassicToday review and check out ongoing, searchable, reviews and articles there.]

    ====Translated review-excerpts from Japan tour, 1999====

      Ongaku no tomo, September 1999

    "Impressed by the poetic beauty of Schumann as played by Kempf"
      The Record Geijutsu, September 1999
    "In Aveu from Carnaval, Schumann only marks 'with passion' and says nothing about tempo. Unusually, Kempf plays [this section] at a very slow tempo but nevertheless it is persuasive and indicates that he is very in poetic feeling. He excels in every a sense that he invests his characteristics in all of them."

    ====The Independent, 5th July 1999====
    From Review of Ogdon event which included
    Kempf playing the Schumann Humoreske

    JOHN OGDON - a 20th-century pianistic icon, you might say - died 10 years ago having given his last, characteristically brave recital, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London only 10 days before.  The Park Lane Group organised a piano gala on Wednesday night in his memory to raise funds for its Endowment and Young Musicians' Performance Eunds, and all the pianists donated their services for free.  Galas are, I suppose, meant to be glittering and long.  This one was certainly long, and if it glittered intermittently that's also in the nature of events such as these.
    . . .
    Really inspired Schumann playing came after the interval, when Frederick (has he dropped the "Freddy" now?) Kempf positively lit up the compendious Humoreske, a piece which he has recently recorded to much critical acclaim.  For the first time in the evening the piano sounded multicoloured and infinitely responsive, a machine to make magic.  Rarely does a pianist capture Schumann's volatility, his sensuous tenderness, his bounding excitability like this.  It was irresistible.  If only Schumann himself could have heard it.
    . . .
    Adrian Jack

    ====The Times, London, 2 July 1999====
    Also, on Ogdon Piano Gala

    Tiring Tribute
    . . . By contrast [with other pianists], Freddy Kempf gave an uplifting performance of the Humoreske, capturing by turns its inwardness and barnstorming excitement with brilliant clarity.

    John Allison

    ====Business Times, Singapore, 28 June 1999====
    Review and feature article
        "Briton's creative talent ensures he will join pantheon of great pianists"
    by Lionel Choi

      Business Times, Singapore (The Straits Times Interactive)

    Full Review can be read at:
          The Business Times, Singapore

    Also, see Feature Article:
          Brilliant Kempf conquers Moscow

    Repertoire with the most exuberant spirit of adventure

    ... 21-year-old Freddy Kempf -- blessed with a fierce intelligence, colourful imagination, incredible fingers and, of course, fresh youthful inspiration -- ... 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 ... 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...

    ..."There is stiffer competition in the Carnaval, but Kempf's kaleidoscopic reading can hold its head high alongside the very best...
    ... Kempf encompasses all with delectable charm and multifarious personality, capped by a stunning unifying vision.

    ... 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. ...

    [ And from the feature article]
    ... Recent recitals show a musician of generous spirit and formidable powers of communication, matched with an acute sense of drama, individuality, charisma, sweeping passion and transcendental virtuoso technique. ..

    Lionel Choi

    ====USA Today, June 6, 1999====
    Capsule music reviews by
    USA TODAY critic David Patrick Stearns
    Freddy Kempf Plays Schumann ( 3-1/2 stars out of four)
    Young pianists traditionally have attempted to impress contest judges by playing fast and loud; in recent years, they've switched to slow and introspective. The English-born Kempf, 22, is one such specimen but has a far greater sense of vision than the others. Indeed, he's one of the most talked-about young pianists in years.

    His performances of Schumann's Carnival, Toccata, Arabesque and Humoresque reflect a highly considered, extremely individualistic view of the music, executed with a youthful brashness that allows him to take tremendous interpretive chances and succeed through the sheer force of his personality. This recording is not for those who take a conservative view toward these well-loved Schumann pieces, but those who enjoy being challenged will have a great time with this.

    David Patrick Stearns

    ====The Sunday Telegraph, UK, 6th June 1999====
    SCHUMANN Carnaval, Humoresque etc.
    Kempf (BIS-CD 960)
    The young British pianist Freddy Kempf shows that the high praise for his playing is not misplaced. These are poetic, brilliantly executed performances, with each movement of Carnaval sharply characterised, yet without disturbing the work's flow. The gem of the disc is the profound interpretation of the mysterious Humoresque. And the booklet essay in this case is a model.

    Michael Kennedy
    (Author of the Oxford Dictionary of Classical Music, etc.)

    ====The Daily Telegraph, UK, 5th June 1999====
    SCHUMANN     [ 71:54 mins]
    Carnaval Op.9; Toccata Op.7; Arabesque Op.18;
    Humoresque Op.20
    Freddy Kempf (piano) (BIS-CD-960)

    Classical CD of the week
      ...  This debut CD amply reveals that general opinion was on the right track, and that the vast amount of press comment which the [Tchaikovsky] competition generated is backed up by genuine musical talent.

        He played Schumann's  'Carnaval' recently at the Wigmore Hall in London, and the affection, spontaneity and communicative fantasy he brought to the music then are just as engaging on disc.

        Technical skill yields clarity of articulation; sensibility brings with it a beguiling lyrical line and discreet tonal colouring; but, even more important, there is a lively, characterful mind at work in these 20 miniature portraits, combined with a shapely sense that they form a well-planned gallery.

        These qualities emerge with the same immediacy from the other three pieces in this Schumann recital. The formidably atheletic demands of the C major 'Toccata' are met with a lithe touch and bustling excitement; the 'Humoresque' and the familiar 'Arabesque' are interpreted with caprice, allure and imagination.

    Geoffrey Norris

        See, also, Geoffrey Norris's Young talent deserves all the fuss
        (The Independent - London, 13 April 1999)

    ====BBC Music Magazine, June 1999====
    . . .one of the most promising pianists of his generation. He came to prominence in 1992 by winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition. His technique is now more formidable than ever, but he has matured into an artist of great poetic sensitivity with a warm, velvet tone to match.

    Of his virtuosity there can be no doubt in either the Toccata or Carnaval, both of which are delivered with admirable fluency... Kempf's gifts are [best] heard the moments of tender introspection ('Eusebius', 'Chopin') and in the Arabeske and Humoreske.

    These are both fine performances, full of poetic touches and exquisite pianism ...

    All in all, an extremely impressive debut disc from an artist of whom we will be hearing a great deal more.

    Barry Millington,

    ==== The Sunday Times, London, May 2, 1999====
    On Record
    Carnaval, Toccata, Arabesque, Humoresque
    Freddy Kempf BIS-CD-960
    MANY lovers of piano playing will have been awaiting impatiently for this first disc from Freddy Kempf ...

    Youthful success does not always mean very much, but this disc, containing brilliant yet considered readings of Carnaval, Op 9, Toccata, Op 7, Arabesque, Op 18, and Humoresque, Op 20, proves that he is the real thing.

    Schumann suits him well. With his sonorous touch and careful chord-voicing he relishes the richness of Schumann's harmonies ...

    The technique is brilliant, but the clinching fact is that he constantly asks questions, both of the music and of himself.

    SP     [Stephen Pettitt]

    International Herald Tribune
    Review of Moscow Performance, April 1999
    28 April 1999


    By George W. Loomis

    Moscow - A young musician has won the hearts of Muscovites. The British pianist Freddy Kempf came to prominence here last summer at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, perhaps the world's best known musical tournament and surely one of the most grueling.

    From all accounts, the 21-year-old was the odds-on favorite of the audience, but he placed only third. Soon the competition was awash with charges of Russian bias on the part of the jury and other angry accusations.

    That all seemed like ancient history on Sunday night when Kempf, as a full-fledged artist, gave his first solo recital in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

    One was reminded that competitions achieve their best results when they simply bring a vital artistic personality before the public. And, whatever its faults, last summer's competition accomplished this much. Tickets for the recital were gone almost immediately. A concerto appearance a few days before sold out as well, with an orchestra that probably couldn't have sold half the seats on its own.

    Kempf is now the toast of Moscow, and the parallel to Van Cliburn, who won the Tchaikovsky in 1958, is hard to overlook.

    His competition videos, as well as an incandescent performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Moscow Symphony last September, are regularly aired on the city's cultural television channel. And it is doubtful that even Cliburn won a comparable following among the city's young women, who bestow flowers on Kempf in the time-honored Russian fashion for artistic idols, then, less conventionally, converge on his dressing room as if he were a rock star.

    They are captivated by distinctive looks traceable to a Japanese mother and a German father, an unassuming informality of dress (black turtleneck beneath a dinner jacket), and a willowy, almost fragile presence that is hard to reconcile with his fearsome displays of technique. (It turns out he is already married - to a pianist from Moscow, no less.)

    Lest there be any mistake, Kempf's artistry is the real thing.

    He is clearly in another league from the many gifted young pianists who routinely emerge on the scene. Schumann's "Carnaval,'' Opus 9, was full of vivid, imaginative touches, brightly impetuous in the outgoing portions but especially rich in evoking the dreamy "Eusebius" side of Schumann's personality.

    Here the languid melodies were shaped with unfailing poetry, as repeats served to reveal new levels of expression or test the melodic potential of inner voices. His exquisite playing in the haunting slow movement of Mozart's Concerto in A, K. 488, in the earlier concert was the product of a similar temperament.

    Kempf's gift for lyricism almost made you forget that Beethoven's Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, is a late work with the implication for probing interpretation.

    His slightly brisk, almost matter-of-fact statement of the theme of the third movement's sublime variations aroused concern, but what followed spoke with an eloquence that duly reflected the import of the music.

    And his account of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Sonata Opus 36 proved to be an event of almost seismic proportions. The first few measures take the pianist all over the keyboard, and there is little respite thereafter. At one point the piano sounded as if transformed into a giant carillon pealing forth huge, descending clusters of sound.

    The composer later blushed at the sonata's excesses and prepared a leaner version. But Kempf goes in for the unexpurgated original and managed to impress an element of musical architecture onto its ungainly elements as well.

    Until now, Kempf has been best known in England, despite appearances abroad. He made his debut with the Royal Philharmonic at the age of 8, and in 1992 he was named BBC Young Musician of the Year. Yet his career seems to have developed in an orderly manner without undue attention at the child-prodigy stage. His first record, an all-Schumann disk, will appear next month.

    Asked about his reaction to the competition decision, he mentions only the anxiety he felt at the semifinals and a degree of nervousness greater than anything he experiences with a normal performance.

    If his career continues to progress as it has of late, he won't have to face anything like that again.

    George W. Loomis is a music writer based in Moscow.

    Why my Freddy Kempf pages?

    CD Availability:  Here are direct links to online CD shops which carry the album.

    How it began - The XI Tchaikovsky Competition reaction

    Recent articles/interviews online

    Freddy Kempf's Rachmaninov CD

    CD cover photograph: Copyright © Hywel Jones, for BIS

    Back to top of  page ... or         to Freddy Kempf on CD        

        or       to previous page

                        or go to Argerich recordings page             or go to home page