Freddy Kempf plays Rachmaninov
"This is a very special record" -- Bryce Morrison, for Gramophone
CD is now available at these sites, with track detail.
EXCERPTS FROM CD AND RELATED REVIEWS
====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."
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
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
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====
"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
- Bryce Morrison
====BBC Music Magazine, June 2000====
"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.
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====
"....he is consolidating his powers with playing of absorbing
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
- 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
====Daily Telegraph, April 29, 2000====
- Michael Kennedy
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
- 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
- Hillary Finch
====Classic CD, May 2000====
FREDDY KEMPF PLAYS RACHMANINOV
THE HOTTEST YOUNG MUSICIANS
(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."
====The Evening Standard, April 20, 2000====
- Julian Haylock
Julian Haylock is the new editor of International Piano Quarterly (IPQ).
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...
====Amazon.co.uk, May 25, 2000====
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
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
"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
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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 =======
THIS SECTION TO BE UPDATED SOON
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 CDCD cover photograph: Copyright © Hywel Jones, for BIS
Freddy's Beethoven CD
His Chopin CD
Small encore photo, courtesy of MeridianTV