Wilhelm Kempff

Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas [Complete Beethoven Edition Vol.5]

(Digital Download - Deutsche Grammophon #)

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This is Wilhelm Kempff's mid-'60s recording of Beethoven's complete piano sonatas and not his early '50s recording. One might argue that Kempff's first set was fresher and more virtuosic, that his '50s recordings of the supremely difficult "Appassionata" and "Hammerklavier" were more successful and that the '50s recordings of the early E flat and D major sonatas were more brilliant and exciting. But one could also argue that Kempff's second set was deeper and more profound and that his '60s recordings of the "Waldstein, the "Les Adieux," and the Sonata in E minor were more sublime and more consoling. But whichever set one ultimately prefers, no one would argue that Kempff's Beethoven is not the greatest -- the most intellectual, the most emotional, the most spiritual -- after Schnabel. Kempff's Beethoven has a nobility, a strength, a soulfulness that most later interpreters miss not matter how astounding their technique. In the slighter works like the two-movement F major and F sharp major sonatas, Kempff strikes the ideal balance between agility and depth. In the lighter sonatas like the last of the Op. 31 set or the two Op. 49 sonatas, Kempff finds depths that others miss, but never overloads the sonatas with too much interpretation. In the popular sonatas like the "Pathétique" and the "Moonlight," Kempff never condescends to the works, but treats them with respect and plays them with dignity. Only in the late sonatas does Kempff falter: as insightful as his performances are, Kempff's performances do not quite touch the infinite. On balance, this is arguably the greatest set of the Beethoven sonatas since Schnabel's.

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