Freddy Kempf plays Rachmaninov

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

"This is a very special record" -- Bryce Morrison, for Gramophone

The Rachmaninov CD

CD is now available at these sites, with track detail.


====Piano and Keyboard, Sep/Oct 2000====    
By Scott McBride Smith

Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36;
"Etudes-tableaux," Op. 39; "Liebesleid."

"Freddy Kempf Modern Man, Old-World Spirit" - by Ates Orga, in same issue of Piano and Keyboard


"...[the disc's] contents confirm Kempf's stature as one of the most exciting talents of any age now before the public...
Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata ... Kempf here chooses the longer version (he prefers the "spontaneous inspiration" of the original) and brings it to life in a performance which recalls Stravinsky's comment to a boorish listener who complained that the length of Schubert's later sonatas put him to sleep. "Yes," said Stravinsky. "But when you awake, you think you are in heaven."

The range of Kempf's performance is established in the Sonata's opening pages. The opening chords are molten gold and granite, balanced by chordal passagework ethereal in its lightness and timbral variety. Kempf has a generosity of spirit that enables him to play at the extreme ranges of dynamics and tempo without sacrificing either forward momentum or structural unity. Compared to Horowitz's titanic interpretation of the work (the other great performance on record), I find Kempf more lyrical and refreshingly un-neurotic. This is not to say that there is any lack of virtuosity. The youthful impetuosity of the last movement is startling in its perfectly controlled wildness and passion.

Moments of beauty are many. Listen to the thrilling geotectonic crescendo beginning at 4'50 in the first movement, conceived as a series of short eruptions climaxing at 6'04. Kempf's technique permits him to propel these dynamically, as one would expect, but also through minute gradations of staccato and chordal voicing, interpretive procedures more usually found in performances of slow movements but here delivered with blazing speed and accuracy. The marvellously languid opening of the second movement, soft-grained yet beautifully projected, shows Kempf's talent for innigkeit...

The Etudes-Tableaux and Liebesleid find Kempf equally adept. My favourite, one out of many, is the deliciously morbid Etude No.2, "The Sea and Seagulls," in a realization hypnotically lonely and sere.

- Scott McBride Smith

Photo by Toby Wales (Click to enlarge)

====San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 22, 2000====    
By Allan Ulrich
Examiner Music Critic

"Kempf, 23, is the latest keyboard sensation from the British Isles (when was the last?) and the hoopla is, to judge from this, his second CD, wholly deserved. He bowed at 8 and has scored in a number of piano competitions, including the Tchaikovsky International in 1998.

This, you learn in about 10 seconds of listening, is a pianist who thinks big. He brings to the grandly romantic sonata the kind of brooding authority and slashing pyrotechnics that happen once or twice a generation, at most.

It would not be too much to assign this performance a place alongside those of Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn.

The complete set of "Etudes-tableaux," written soon after the sonata, receives similarly incendiary treatment.

To my knowledge, Kempf has not yet performed in the Bay Area. Wise impresarios should investigate the possibility of a booking.

- Allan Ulrich

====Gramophone, June 2000====
Bryce Morrison
"The early virtuosity Kempf revealed in the
1998 Tchaikovsky Competition is here
complemented by a burgeoning individuality
especially evident in the Op. 39 Etudes"

"Freddy Kempf's second disc in his series for BIS offers an enthralling example of that moment when early talent blossoms into fullness and individuality...

...[In the Second Sonata] (thankfully played in the 1913 version rather than the brutally truncated 1931 revision)... his youthful play of light and shade, his innate musical grace and fluency are rich compensation for an occasional diffidence ...

...[In the Op.39 Etudes] he comes entirely and superbly into his own. He paces No.2 more generously than on a previous occasion in New York, showing a nice sense of Rachmaninov's volatility (poco più vivo) beneath his despondent Dies irae surface. His rhythmic poise and vivacity in the reluctantly festive No.4 (one of the composer's rare excursions into something bordering on gaiety) show an authentic feel for its bustle and urgency, and his deeply welling - rather than merely hectoring - start to No.5 leads to an inclusive sense of its appassionata rhetoric and declamation.

In No.6 the wolf seemingly swallows Red Riding Hood whole at 1'47 (part of an acute and poetic virtuosity that so enthralled Russian audiences at the disgraced 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition) while in No.7, an elegy that gives the lie to Rachmaninov's supposed conservatism, he achieves the sort of expressive freedom and elasticity that usually comes to pianists far beyond his 22 years. No.8 finds him clarifying Rachmaninov's ornate polyphony with rare artistry and, finally, his way with the Liebesleid, quite without preening idiosyncrasy or mannerism, recreates a magical and touching sense of Rachmaninov's affection for Kreisler.

BIS's sound is superb, fully capturing Freddy Kempf's dynamic range from whispering pianissimos to sonorous fortissimos. This is a very special record."

- Bryce Morrison

====BBC Music Magazine, June 2000====
Performance: 5/5
Sound: 5/5

"Freddy Kempf is a powerfully impressive pianist. As becomes evident from the very outset of the Sonata, he deploys a wide-ranging tonal palette, ranging from delicate pianissimos to a thundering, almost orchestral power at the opposite end of the spectrum, which is nowhere marred by even a hint of banging.

He combines admirable attention to detail, whether in matters of articulation or melodic inflection, with a commanding overview of large-scale structure. His rhythm is both strong and supple, integrated and flexible, and he has the benefit of first-rate recorded sound ... Nor is he less impressive in the Etudes-tableaux. Rachmaninoff's music is notoriously easy to over-dramatise ... but Kempf resists the temptation, without ever sounding frustratingly cautious.  All in all, this disc is a winner all the way."

- Jeremy Siepmann

====The Sunday Times, May 28, 2000====
The Times (UK)

"... Here he proves himself again to be a pianist of formidable technique, making mincemeat of the sprawling forms of the Second Sonata, which he gives in its original version of 1913. He has immense power, but always plays deep into the key, so that warmth is never sacrificed. There's also a special resonance about his bass lines and his voicing of inner parts, which lends the music unusual clarity, no matter how dense the texture, while his performance of the Op 39 Etudes-tableaux proves that he relishes poetry just as much as drama. A star."

- Stephen Pettitt

====International Record Review, June 2000====
By Jed Distler

"...[The] Second Piano Sonata is a tricky work to bring off. It mirrors much of the Third Concerto's cyclonic pianism, vertiginous passagework, and edge-of-seat theatricality, but lacks the earlier work's memorable tunes. Opting for the 1913 text, Kempf shakes its difficulties by the scruff as few pianists on record have done. Serpentine runs go down as smoothly as Chivas Regal does on a cold night, while the two-fisted chordal sequences in the outer movements bear not a scar nor splinter under Kempf's mega-secure hands.  At the same time, the young pianist likes to milk Rachmaninov's lyrical side, but never to the point of caricature. Kempf's roomy, robust reading, moreover, is afforded gorgeous, full-throated engineering..."

Kempf's control and refinement are no less awe-inspiring throughout the Op. 39 Etudes- tableaux ...
    ...[The reviewer also recommends pianists for other qualities.]

The programme closes with Rachmaninov's more-difficult-than-it-sounds transcription of Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid ... Kempf's languid rubatos nicely underline Rachmaninov's juicier flights of harmonic fancy.
In sum, Freddy Kempf's Rachmaninov adds up to a fine offering from one of the foremost keyboard talents of his generation."

- Jed Distler

====The Telegraph, Jan. 20, 2000====    
Geoffrey Norris
The Telegraph

"....he is consolidating his powers with playing of absorbing depth.

His programme here spanned Beethoven's A flat major Sonata Op 110, six of Rachmaninov's Etudes-tableaux Op 39 and Chopin's B minor Sonata, with Rachmaninov's Liebesleid transcription as a perfectly judged encore.

Kempf balances virtuosity with consideration. There are times - though they are rare - when impetuosity gets the better of him and the playing momentarily becomes splashy - but rather this sort of creative compulsion than something drily safe. His performances surge with a thorough involvement in the art of making music vitally expressive.

The Rachmaninov studies were a case in point. In the weightier ones, the approach was bold, the tone profound and lyrical, the music vibrantly characterised. At the same time, Kempf has a seasoned ear for delicate colour and an eye for music's shape and direction. So, in the Beethoven and Chopin sonatas, while his playing caught the fugitive atmosphere with gloriously poetic touches, it also had a natural momentum and an ineluctable sense of integrated structure.

- Geoffrey Norris

====The Telegraph, May 6, 2000====  
Interview by Damian Thompson

"...His first release was a wonderfully quixotic Schumann Carnaval; his second album (out this week) is a Rachmaninov recital which includes a meltingly tender performance of the Second Sonata. Next he is going to tackle the pianistic Everest of the last three Beethoven sonatas..."
- Damian Thompson

====Classical Music on the Web, June 2000====
  Both Reviews, in full, are at Classical Music on the Web

"Following the acclaim of his first disc, Freddy Kempf plays Schumann, the young British pianist has now turned his attention to Rachmaninov. This is in many ways a finer disc, displaying a touch that is mercurial and a tone that gleams like a golden fleece. The sonorities are as fiery as the Phlegethon as Kempf steers a course through Rachmaninov's opulent sound-world. These are performances that float notes as gracefully as any and mix dizzying virtuosity with tempered poetry.
  [Re Kempf's choice of the original 1913 version]
The restoration of the 113 bars cut for the 1931 version gives this work an homogeneity that is now easy to appreciate. The rhetoric and surging passion of the opening movement, with its rugged textures, and supremely baritonal strength (listen to Kempf at 6'01 to 6'28), are majestically drawn. The lyricism and dynamic shadings grow almost preternaturally (7'05 onwards). Kempf gives his second movement - marked only non-allegro - attacca - a dreamy landscape of delicious seductiveness, the harmonies more clearly Scriabinesque than we usually hear. From 2'48 to 3'14 you can hear exactly how Kempf links this Sonata back to the sound of the Second Concerto. The final movement is a veritable tour de force, and Kempf's pianism here reaches transcendental peaks. The Romanticism of this movement is red-blooded, with a potent, almost sexually charged dynamism. The colours are almost always darker than before - crimson tides, with an almost port-wined darkness to his tone. From 5'02 he launches the final pages with wild abandon.
In short, this is a superb disc. Kempf's pianism is often like a tsunami, swelling with both passion and poetry. The technique is superb, the understanding of Rachmaninov's image-fuelled writing often more so. The sounds he gets from the Yamaha piano are amongst the most convincing I have heard from this instrument, the recording very natural. A winning disc."

- Marc Bridle

Ian Lace adds:-
"He has now emerged to pursue a promising career as perhaps, one of the greatest pianists of this new century. Already, the critics have eulogised over his first recording - of Schumann - for BIS and he is greatly sought after all over the world.
This is an excellent album which should be in the collection of every lover of Rachmaninov and every admirer of supreme pianistic artistry."

- Ian Lace

        See Classical Music on the Web for full reviews.

        Also, check out the beautifully presented (if hard to read due to small print) interview with Kempf at The Flying Inkpot, which links to a differently formatted review of this CD.

====The Sunday Telegraph, April 23, 2000====
Rachmaninov Sonata No.2, Etudes-tableaux
By Michael Kennedy

"Here is another outstanding young pianist who can rival Kissin in virtuosity but who goes deeper into the music. He plays the original 1913 version (longer and more difficult) of the Second Sonata with the towering combination of passion and pianism that the music invites. It is a marvel how Kempf registers all its moods, from the echoes of the third concerto to the anticipations of the later works. He is equally impressive in the second set of Etudes-tableaux, jewels which it would be folly to describe as miniatures for they are so big in their challenges to the pianist and in their expressive scope. The disc, well recorded, ends with Rachmaninov's enchanting transcription of his friend Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid."

- Michael Kennedy

====Daily Telegraph, April 29, 2000====
Excerpted from David Fanning's review

"This follow-up to Freddy Kempf's auspicious debut recording of Schumann confirms his credentials as an outstandingly gifted and well-rounded musician. He not only masters the teeming complexities of Rachmaninov's piano writing, but he also constantly probes them for poetic meaning. He takes his time, without ever self-consciously luxuriating; he cares for detail and nuance, without ever sounding vainglorious ... how persuasive his autumnal, at times almost nonchalant view of Rachmaninov is on its own terms."

- David Fanning

====The Sunday Observer, April 30, 2000====
RACHMANINOV: Piano Sonata No 2; …tudes-Tableaux Op 39;
Kreisler arr Rachmaninov: Liebesleid

"Controversially awarded only third place in the 1998 Tchaikovsy International Piano Competition, when barely out of his teens, Freddy Kempf delivers an eye-openingly fresh account of Rachmaninov's original, uncut, finger-crunching Second Sonata. The second of Rachmaninov's …tudes-tableaux sets take flame with flair and insight, harbouring a bony sense of the macabre. Uncalculated abandon makes for 'as live' performances."

- Edward Bhesania

====The Times (UK), May 2, 2000====
by Hillary Finch
Excerpts from CD reviews

" . . . ...Following his Schumann disc, Kempf turns to the original 1913 version of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata: it's all of 116 bars longer than the composer's 1931 revision, yet Kempf's energetic control of structure, and his broad palette of colours makes it not for one moment seem sprawling or over-written. I like the way Kempf catches the often-ignored twinkle in Rachmaninov's eye, too, in moments of sudden caprice and youthful audacity ...

... where Chopin meets Mussorgsky in the Etudes-Tableaux, Kempf tempers his fierce and fearless fingerwork with an eloquent balance of sonorities. This is particularly telling in the second piece, with its veiled evocation of sea and seagulls.

As an unofficial encore, Kempf gives a delicately flamboyant performance of Rachmaninov's transcription of Kreisler's Liebesleid."

- Hillary Finch

====Classic CD, May 2000====

(15 pianists were chosen)

"A remarkable player who combines intellectual rigour and tremendous physical command with an exceptional poetic instinct. As is demonstrated by his latest Rachmaninov release, Kempf  lacks nothing in terms of virtuoso flair, yet it is his total absorption in whatever he plays that leaves the most lasting impression."

- Julian Haylock

Julian Haylock is the new editor of International Piano Quarterly (IPQ).
====The Evening Standard, April 20, 2000====
Freddy Kempf Plays Rachmaninoff
By Rick Jones

"For his second solo disc, the stunning young British pianist Freddy Kempf chooses Rachmaninov...He opens with the Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor in its original 1913 version, which is longer, more florid and more passionate that its later 1931 revision...Kempf's very first note is prompt and urgent. His shakes are balanced. The three falling semi-quavers which recur within the texture throughout the first movement insinuate themselves early. Kempf's playing has everything: speed, clarity, line, dynamics. He does all that the score asks and adds his own romantic integrity too...

Rachmaninov composed two sets of fiendishly difficult Etudes Tableaux, the second of which, Op.39 from 1920, Kempf plays here. In No.1 he makes telling contrast of legato and staccato playing. In No.2 he turns the piano keys to velvet. In No.3 they melt. No.4 is whimsical. No.5 is imploring. No.6 is threateningly neurotic with its roaring bass-note runs that collide with loud slams and frantic right-hand semiquavers. No.7 is darkly lugubrious, as if it were plotting some malevolence. No.8 is a sombre waltz and No.9 is the most dramatic short scene on the disc. Kempf is no mere note-basher, but renders everything with complete understanding of the composer's and the muse's mind."

- Rick Jones

====Amazon.co.uk, May 25, 2000====
By Gary S. Dalkin, for Amazon
"Here is the 1913 version of Rachmaninov's Piano Sonata No. 2, a work steeped in the same gargantuan romanticism as the Piano Concerto No. 3. The sonata offers colourfully intense and heartfelt music, very Russian, clearly descended from Tchaikovsky, but more akin to Scriabin's dazzling Piano Sonatas.
The second set of Etudes-tableaux are nine pieces of grave and rapturous beauty, mainly composed in the winter of 1916-17...what astonishes is the lyrical warmth and sunlight amid the darkness."

The brilliant young British pianist Freddy Kempf ... takes hold of this immensely demanding work with great confidence, has the technical ability to match his emotional commitment, and gets so far inside the music as to really bring it alive in a way which is at once epic and intimate."

- Gary S. Dalkin

(1)  Kreisler arr. by Rachmaninov for piano - Liebesleid  (from live performance) and
(2)  Schumann Warum from live performance

  Photo courtesy of Meridian TV

From GuildMusic
"Another of Kreisler's original pieces for violin and piano, one of a pair (the other being Liebesfreud), is Leibesleid, which sums up the soul of old Vienna - not as a large concert-waltz in the manner of the Strauss dynasty, but as an intimate, gentle reminiscence. It is marked to be played in the style of the Austrian (or German) Lšndler, an old dance in slowish 3/4 time, which many believe was the forerunner of the waltz, with which it shares certain similarities. In any event, Kreisler's delightfully languorous piece, with its evocative and dreamy ending, is a magnificent composition of its type, a perfect gem of the composer's craft."   - Robert Matthew-Walker

    for Internet Explorer 4x, 5x - Streaming mp3 in Low-Fi  for normal modems
    for Internet Explorer 4x, 5x - Streaming mp3 in
Hi-Fi  for DSL/cablemodems
    for Netscape - mp3 file in
Lo-Fi  800K   (~3 minute download)
    for Netscape - mp3 file in
Hi-Fi  4.5M  (~20 minute download)

    Netscape Tip: Launch Winamp; Press Ctrl-L, Type into Location Field:
        " http://www.andrys.com/krlieb24.mp3 "  (for normal modems)
        " http://www.andrys.com/krlie128.mp3 "  (for DSL/cablemodems)
              (This will stream the mp3's for Netscape users.)

  Normal Modem streaming with Internet Explorer
  Fast DSL or Cablemodem with Internet Explorer

 Netscape users will have to fire up their mp3 player and put in, to PlayLocation (Play URL) field or something:
  Normal Modem streaming - type " http://andrys.com/a_warum.mp3 "
  Fast DSL or Cablemodem - type " http://andrys.com/awarum.mp3 "

CD Availability:  Here are direct links to online CD shops which carry the album, with track detail. Tower promises quick delivery.

Why my Freddy Kempf  pages?

======= Recent articles online =======

May 25, 2000: Interview with Freddy Kempf, by AmazonUK

April 25, 2000: Interview with Freddy Kempf, by Mark Bridle of MusicWeb.

"Meeting Freddy Kempf can be a humbling experience. Not yet 23, he is already well on his way to becoming a pianist of considerable greatness (his new Rachmaninov disc is very fine indeed)..."
    Bridle also does a comparison-review of Kissin and Kempf in recent live performances of Beethoven Concertos.

April 19, 2000: Review of Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in concert, by Geoffrey Norris for The Telegraph.  

"FREDDY KEMPF'S performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto in this Royal Philharmonic Orchestra programme was the complete antidote to the austerely manufactured one of the Third Concerto, also at the Barbican, that Evgeny Kissin had given with the Philharmonia a couple of nights earlier. There was a communicative vitality here, a true dialogue between piano and orchestra and an engagingly youthful ardour..."

Freddy Kempf's Schumann CD
Freddy's Beethoven CD
His Chopin CD

CD cover photograph: Copyright © Hywel Jones, for BIS
Small encore photo, courtesy of MeridianTV

You can read the description at the group's website.
The great-pianists forum (500+)
  For info and news about concert pianists today,
  join the Great-Pianists Forum discussions.
Choose to read msgs via mail, webpage, or daily digest.

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