Gramophone Editor's Choice
This edition of the complete recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas, made during the war, is a godsend for all the lovers of the great German pianist, and there are a lot of them, of all generations. One could get a bit lost in the jungle of his many recordings that came out from 1920 to 1975: that is, over 55 years – which is a lot, to say that he doesn't like playing for microphones. But Kempff has always been happy to record nonetheless, and is constantly polishing up his technique so as to render the most faithful possible service to his art, given the technological innovations that he has seen across his many years of recording, from acoustics to stereophony, by way of electric recording, 78rpm and the 33rpm microgroove.
He has recorded a lot of music since the start of his long career: Bach, Brahms, Schubert, but in particular, at 80%, he remains one of the greatest performers of his dear friend Beethoven. The recordings from this period are not always easy to date, because they could appear under many different matrix numbers, although they are in fact all the same version. Some famous sonatas, of course, have indeed been recorded many times: Pathétique as well as Clair de lune, Waldstein and Appassionata. The sonatas which figure in this album, recorded in Berlin in 1942 and 1943, make up what should have been a recording of the complete works, but which was interrupted by the war. Despite a fairly ephemeral French edition in the 1980s with the Dante label, these recordings were forgotten in favour of two later complete recordings, the first of which was produced in the 1950s and the second in the 1960s in stereophony.
Even if the surface sound is omnipresent in these re-recordings, it is quickly forgotten thanks to the painstaking restoration that has brought back Kempff's marvellously delicate touch. It is thrilling to follow in the footsteps of this towering musician, and compare him to himself across the years. In fact, his art has not aged as time has gone by, even if one notes the substantial difference in the discourse, the sound (depending on the piano used), the tempo and the formal construction. A document of the greatest musical interest.
François Hudry © Qobuz 2017