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SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845; Piano Sonata in B flat, D. 960 - Kempff

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845; Piano Sonata in B flat, D. 960 - Kempff


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‘When he is at his best he plays more beautifully than any of us,’ Alfred Brendel told William Steinberg and described Kempff as ‘an Aeolian harp, ever ready to respond to whatever interesting wind blew his way’. Brendel chose Kempff’s 1953 Decca recording of Schubert’s A minor Sonata, D.845, for inclusion in Philips’ monumental ‘Great Pianists of the 20th Century’ series. The B flat Sonata was recorded three years earlier and has never previously been published on CD. In contrast with today’s bountiful D. 960 discography, Schubert’s last sonata was a relative rarity on disc when this recording first appeared and it met with critical enthusiasm. ‘Out of many lovely things in (the) first movement,’ wrote the late and long-time Gramophone critic Alec Robertson, ‘I will single out Kempff’s playing of the second tune (F sharp minor) in which he achieves a perfect balance between the tenor and treble registers and his instinctive feeling for the magical music hovering between D minor and B flat major which proceeds the recapitulation – one of the supreme things in the whole of piano literature.’

In the 1000th issue of Gramophone (December 2005) the magazine asked its panel of reviewers to choose a single artist they’d like to hear perform just for them. Ivan March chose Wilhelm Kempff and in particular, this 1950 Decca recording of Schubert’s B flat sonata: ‘Long ago, in my teens, I discovered the inspirational playing of Wilhelm Kempff. It is he I would invite to my command performance and it is Schubert I would ask him to play – the last, wonderful Sonata in B flat major, for me the peak of 19th-century piano music. I heard it first on a Decca mono LP, elysian in his hands. But that early pressing had an irritating background swish. I tried to replace it but it appeared that all copies carried the same fault; it was some time before I secured a perfect pressing. Many years later I had afternoon tea with the illustrious Alec Robertson whose enthusiastic review in The Gramophone had drawn me to the record. I gently took him to task about not mentioning the swish in his review. His eyes twinkled. ‘Ivan,’ he said, ‘the playing was so beautiful that I didn’t hear the swish’.’

Sonata in A minor, D.845
Sonata in B flat major, D.960

Wilhelm Kempff, piano

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