Freddy Kempf / Andrew Litton / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto Nos. 2 & 3; Piano Sonata No. 2

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Whatever one might call it -- virtuosity, charisma, panache, or just plain guts -- pianist Freddy Kempf certainly has it. Kempf has successfully deployed his gifts in some of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire in a consistently impressive series of discs for BIS. He's taken on Bach partitas, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin etudes, and Rachmaninov preludes, and he's brought them to dizzying heights where the air is thin and only the greatest pianists can breathe. But while there's no doubt Kempf is bringing his best qualities to bear on this disc of Prokofiev's Second and Third piano concertos and his Second Piano Sonata, it is nowhere nearly as successful as his earlier recordings. Perhaps this is because, for all his blazing virtuosity, Kempf tends to lean toward the light and lyrical in Prokofiev, and this approach doesn't always fit with the music. It works brilliantly in the body of the Third Concerto's opening Allegro and in much of the same work's closing Allegro ma non troppo, where Kempf's fleet fingers and racing tempos carry all before them. But in the Third's central theme and variations, and in most of the Second's opening Allegretto and closing Allegro tempestoso, Kempf sounds oddly underpowered, as if he lacked the strength to convey the steel and iron of the music. That surely cannot be the case for a pianist who has turned in a performance of "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition that could, if aimed in the right direction, reduce Gibraltar to pebbles. Whatever the cause, this disc is somewhat disappointing, coming from such a gifted player. Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic are more than adequate, but not much more, as accompanists. BIS' super audio sound seems to surround and even envelop the listener.

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