KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Complete (1953/1936) - PABX037

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KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Complete (1953/1936) - PABX037

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Overview

BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos 1-5
*BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5

Recorded 1953 and *1936

Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Paul van Kempen
*conducted by Peter Raabe

This set contains the following albums:

Click below to expand note:
KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 1 (1953) - PASC623

"Kempff strides with Haydnesque gallantry in the First, his brio both bracing and affectionate. The warmth and delicacy of his slow movement is both natural and unaffected, whilst the energy and dynamism of the finale are always controlled by his appropriate touch. The Second Concerto is stylish and gracious, its slow movement emerging beautifully cushioned and relaxed, lyricism fusing with delicacy. Rhythmic pointing informs the finale – that and a puckish, smiling wit, insouciant and alive."

Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International, 2006

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) is often regarded as being in his absolute prime in the 1950s, just as the era of true high fidelity recordings was taking off. In the earlier years of the decade he recorded both the full Beethoven Sonatas and Concertos for Deutsche Grammophon. These well-received recordings were, however, made at the tail-end of the mono era, and the very beginning of the days of tape recording - within a very short time the technology of recording would advance considerably and stereo would quickly become the norm, especially for classical music recordings. This led to Kempff revisiting both of his major Beethoven cycles in the 1960s again for DGG but this time in stereo, and the relegation of his earlier recordings to the archives, if only for a short time.

Certainly the earlier recordings weren't badly made. A little reverberant for their era, perhaps, and with a sound quality that even by 1957, just four years after the recordings were made, was drawing criticisms in The Gramophone: "it is not in any case quite D.G.G.'s best quality, with a resonance that does not sound natural to my ears, and rather tinny sounds at the top of the keyboard". Nearly fifty years later, reviewing DGGs CD reissue in 2006, Jonathan Woolf was to comment: "There is tape hiss, residual but evident. But to compensate the sound is very much forward, very square-on, and this refers as much to things such as the trenchant wind chording as it does to the solo spectrum. It’s certainly not a warm sound exactly, there’s nothing enveloping or cozy about it; in fact in places it’s more than a touch brittle. There are moments when the strings suffer from an endemic swimmy-ness as well which leads to a lack of real focus and bloom."

By returning to these recordings, using the very latest audio restoration technology and Ambient Stereo XR remastering techniques, I hope to overcome as many of the shortcomings as possible of these wonderful recordings. I hope the listener will find a warmer, richer and more engaging sound than in previous issues, allowing a closer rapport with performer and music. Tape hiss has been further relegated to the background, and where there was brittleness or "tinny sounds" there is depth, clarity and space.

Andrew Rose



KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 2 (1953) - PASC638

"For many classical enthusiasts, Wilhelm Kempff is synonymous with Beethoven. His complete 1960s sets of the piano concertos and piano sonatas, both on Deutsche Grammophon, have been high on the list of recommended recordings for over half a century. Kempff was born in 1895, so his stereo recordings were made when he was nearly 70. Ten years earlier he set down sets of both in mono which some regard more highly.

The Complete Sonatas have been re-mastered by Andrew Rose of Pristine and are available, either in four Volumes or complete on 8 CDs, at a discount, on PABX033 which I’ll be reviewing shortly. Wilhelm Kempff’s stereo set was with Ferdinand Leitner, also with the Berlin Philharmonic. When it was released in a DG Galleria triple CD box in 1988, it was one of the first sets of complete Beethoven Piano Concertos I bought. However, Richard Osborne reviewing the discs in “The Gramophone” alluded to the mono set, re-released on LPs, in 1979, and suggested that it was in some way more even more remarkable. Jonathan Woolf in his review of the reissue in 2006 of the complete set (on Deutsche Grammophon DG 476 5299), which I eagerly purchased, wondered whether the Berlin mono recordings could intrigue, excite and move him as much as the later traversal. Jonathan’s answer was yes, yes and yes. It was therefore with considerable anticipation that I started listening to the first disc with the two earlier Concertos, No.2 is, in fact, earlier but published afterwards. The simple answer is these patrician accounts sound splendid in their new incarnation and belie their nearly seventy years…

…If there are any sceptics who still don’t value this work they only have to listen to this sophisticated but appropriately classical interpretation with empathetic accompaniment from Van Kempen and the Berlin Philharmonic. The years simply roll away with this fresh restoration. It’s worth recalling that Van Kempen left behind cherishable recordings of three Beethoven Symphonies reissued by Eloquence both in a double set and in a box set (questionable, because of their provenance) in war-time performances of 2 and 5 on Pristine both which I would love to hear.
 
The first movement of No. 2 here has the conversational style that Beethoven was to use in a different context, the opening movement of String Quartet Op.18 No.2. However, what tenderness is heard after more original cadenzas to end a transcendent movement. It’s hard when listening to this expressive romance, so delicately crafted, that there could be any other interpretation. As in the slow movement of No. 1, Kempff perambulates skittishly whilst the orchestra play a truly breath-taking main theme. Time is taken wisely but there’s never a sign of indulgence. Jonathan described the finale as puckish, insouciant and alive. That final point is what I take most from hearing it now. There’s no feeling of being studio-bound. This is fresh and spontaneous. If you need a tonic in the current difficult times then this will certainly have a positive effect.

These two fine performances are now in sound that gives the listener sheer joy and you should be ready to marvel at such musicianship. My wife hearing some of it was amazed that it comes from 1953. We owe a huge debt to Andrew Rose for giving us these jewels. These recordings were always special but now can be appreciated without making allowances. It only remains to say, that I’m looking forward to hearing the remaining three concertos and listening to the contemporary recordings of the sonatas."


David R Dunsmore, MusicWeb International, 2021 (excerpts) - Review of Volume One (PASC623)




Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) is often regarded as being in his absolute prime in the 1950s, just as the era of true high fidelity recordings was taking off. In the earlier years of the decade he recorded both the full Beethoven Sonatas and Concertos for Deutsche Grammophon. These well-received recordings were, however, made at the tail-end of the mono era, and the very beginning of the days of tape recording - within a very short time the technology of recording would advance considerably and stereo would quickly become the norm, especially for classical music recordings. This led to Kempff revisiting both of his major Beethoven cycles in the 1960s again for DGG but this time in stereo, and the relegation of his earlier recordings to the archives, if only for a short time.

Certainly the earlier recordings weren't badly made. A little reverberant for their era, perhaps, and with a sound quality that even by 1957, just four years after the recordings were made, was drawing criticisms in The Gramophone: "it is not in any case quite D.G.G.'s best quality, with a resonance that does not sound natural to my ears, and rather tinny sounds at the top of the keyboard". Nearly fifty years later, reviewing DGGs CD reissue in 2006, Jonathan Woolf was to comment: "There is tape hiss, residual but evident. But to compensate the sound is very much forward, very square-on, and this refers as much to things such as the trenchant wind chording as it does to the solo spectrum. It’s certainly not a warm sound exactly, there’s nothing enveloping or cozy about it; in fact in places it’s more than a touch brittle. There are moments when the strings suffer from an endemic swimmy-ness as well which leads to a lack of real focus and bloom."

By returning to these recordings, using the very latest audio restoration technology and Ambient Stereo XR remastering techniques, I hope to overcome as many of the shortcomings as possible of these wonderful recordings. I hope the listener will find a warmer, richer and more engaging sound than in previous issues, allowing a closer rapport with performer and music. Tape hiss has been further relegated to the background, and where there was brittleness or "tinny sounds" there is depth, clarity and space.

Andrew Rose


KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 3 (1953/1936) - PASC641

This third volume of Beethoven Piano Concertos, coming after our series of the complete Sonatas, completes our set of Beethoven recordings made by Wilhelm Kempff in the early 1950s for DGG. Ken Meltzer, reviewing the first of the Concertos volumes, gives as good a description as any as to what has been achieved in these remasters:


"[In the 1992 DG Dokumente reissue] the orchestra is accorded an overly resonant setting. Louder passages take on a somewhat compressed and harsh quality. The piano’s upper register has a rather tinny quality as well. And, not at all surprising for a recording of this vintage, tape hiss is evident throughout. None of these flaws, for want of a better word, bar enjoyment of these magnificent recordings, but they pose challenges to the listener. There is certainly room (or at least, a wish) for improvement.

And, as in the case of the mono Kempff Beethoven sonata cycle, that is precisely what Andrew Rose and Pristine Audio have achieved, and in impressive fashion. The orchestral acoustic is still resonant, but it now has a warmth and glow throughout the dynamic range not present in the Dokumente reissue. Likewise, the sonority of the piano now takes on a uniform quality and beauty. And the tape hiss is significantly reduced, to the point that I doubt anyone listening on speakers (as opposed to headphones) will notice it. And all of this is achieved without any loss of detail ... I’ll repeat what I wrote after hearing Volume 1 of Pristine Audio’s release of the Kempff mono Beethoven sonata recordings: “If Pristine Audio can maintain this level throughout the remainder of the cycle, it will be a tremendous and important achievement, indeed.” Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm."

(Fanfare magazine, July-August 2021)


With this final volume I had more than enough time left over on the disc to turn the clock back to the mid-1930s, and offer you the same orchestra and soloist performing the same work, though with a different conductor, one I'd never heard of before, and to be honest one I'd be glad not to hear of again...

The biographies of German conductor and composer Peter Raabe tend to be very slender documents. We learn that he wrote the first complete chronology of the works of Liszt. We learn that he "graduated from 3 schools: the Higher Musical School in Berlin; and the universities of Munich; and Jena. In 1894–98 Raabe worked in Königsberg and Zwickau. In 1899–1903 he worked in the Dutch Opera-House (Amsterdam). In 1907–1920, Raabe was the 1st Court Conductor in Weimar. Raabe performed in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands, among other locations." (Wikipedia)

And then we discover that in 1935 "he became head of the Reichsmusikkammer and the Deutscher Tonkünstlerverein; in these offices he was called upon to perform administrative tasks for the Nazi regime, including the racial restrictions of musicians." Put simply, he appears to have been an enthusiastic Nazi who carried through the requirements of the regime right until the end of the war. Happily for him, perhaps, he died a month before it all ended. Happily for us he's now but a footnote in the history of recorded music, thanks to the present recording, offered here for historical interest with regard to soloist and orchestra, but not the conductor.

Andrew Rose



Click below to expand track listing:
KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 1 (1953) - PASC623

KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume One


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
1. 1st mvt. - Allegro con brio  (15:06)
2. 2nd mvt. - Largo  (12:31)
3. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Allegro  (9:50)


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19
4. 1st mvt. - Allegro con brio  (13:20)
5. 2nd mvt. - Adagio  (9:50)
6. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Molto allegro  (6:43)



Wilhelm Kempff, piano

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra    
conducted by Paul van Kempen


XR Remastered by  Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Kempff
Cadenzas by Wilhelm Kempff
DGG studio recordings, May 1953

Total duration:  67:20 

KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 2 (1953) - PASC638

KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume Two


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
1. 1st mvt. - Allegro con brio  (15:58)
2. 2nd mvt. - Largo  (9:56)
3. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Allegro – Presto  (9:48)


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
4. 1st mvt. - Allegro moderato  (17:07)
5. 2nd mvt. - Andante con moto  (5:18)
6. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Vivace  (10:52)

Wilhelm Kempff, piano

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra    
conducted by Paul van Kempen

XR Remastered by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Kempff
Cadenzas by Wilhelm Kempff
DGG studio recordings, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, May 1953

Total duration:  68:59 

KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume 3 (1953/1936) - PASC641

KEMPFF The Beethoven Piano Concertos, Volume Three


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73, 'Emperor' - rec. 1953
1. 1st mvt. - Allegro  (20:53)
2. 2nd mvt. - Adagio un poco moto  (7:53)
3. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Allegro  (10:58)


BEETHOVEN  Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73, 'Emperor' - rec. 1936*
4. 1st mvt. - Allegro  (20:19)
5. 2nd mvt. - Adagio un poco moto  (7:39)
6. 3rd mvt. - Rondo. Allegro  (10:06)

Wilhelm Kempff, piano

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra    
conducted by Paul van Kempen
*conducted by Peter Raabe


XR Remastered by Andrew Rose

Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Kempff
Cadenzas by Wilhelm Kempff
Studio recordings: Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, May 1953 & *Polydor Studios, Berlin, June 1936

Total duration:  77:48