Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Works for Solo keyboard
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828 [32:10]
Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830 [33:50]
Freddy Kempf, piano
Recorded Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, July 2002
Released March 2006
Comparisons: Gould/Sony, Kuschnerova/Orfeo, Rangell/Dorian, Rubsam/Naxos,
Freddy Kempf is a fast-rising young star of the piano literature known
for his outstanding virtuosity and independence. Any complaints about
Kempf's music-making concern the issues of mannerisms and characterization.
Unfortunately, these complaints rear their heads in Kempf's new Bach
recording of two of the six keyboard partitas.
First, the good stuff. Kempf has 'flying fingers' and an overall technique
that is very impressive; just listen to his dynamic accounts of the Gigues
from each Partita. Also, his ornamentation is just how I like it: tasteful,
judiciously employed, and always a natural enhancement to the music
arguments. Kempf's double-dotted rhythmic figures, such as in the D major
Partita's Overture, are highly ceremonial with plenty of rhythmic lift. In
the Sarabandes, Kempf is attractively poignant, a quality that also informs
his unusually slow-paced Allemande in the E minor Partita where he makes
Rosalyn Tureck sound like a speed demon in her measured performance.
The debit side is also substantial. I mentioned earlier Kempf's excellent
rhythmic lift in the double-dotted Overture. Well, that's the only time
that the interpretations involve a significant bounce as Kempf tends to
flatten Bach's rhythms; its strongest manifestation is in the D major's Air
where the rhythmic patterns are squashed with the added disadvantage of
weeping descending lines that are quite feeble and entirely uninvolved.
Another concern is that Kempf displays a penchant for playing in a demure
and rather precious manner that is most damaging in the D major's
magnificent and regal Allemande where the pianist trades in majesty for
flimsy meanderings. Other less than sterling qualities include some spongy
articulation, weak conversation among voices and reduced bite to the
Perhaps most problematic is a lack of character to Kempf's interpretations.
Each of the comparison versions possesses abundant character, and I don't
consider it unreasonable to expect a healthy amount from Kempf. But he
doesn't strongly portray any of Bach's most compelling musical traits:
severity, joy, rhetoric/conversation, spirituality, foreboding, remorse,
playfulness, the "Papa Bach" effect, or any other quality you would
personally include. Kempf can't hold a candle to Gould's majesty and
precision, Tureck's probing nature, Rubsam's unique creativity, Schepkin's
poetry, or Kuschnerova's joyful declarations.
Kempf's soundstage is fine, neither enhancing nor diminishing the impact
of his performances. But the program is not market-friendly with only
two Partitas on the disc. Most modern-era recordings have three Bach
keyboard partitas, but Kempf has picked the two longest of the six,
insuring no space for another.
Don's Conclusions: Kempf's new Bach recording adds little to the
discography of the keyboard partitas. Character is lacking, and there
are many alternative discs that are rich in personality. My best advice
is to acquire the Gould, Tureck, and Rubsam piano sets; each is highly
individualized and stunning in its impact.
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