Wilhelm Kempff Chamber Music – Worth a Listen

Wilhelm Kempff is best remembered as a piano virtuoso. But he was also a composer. This release features two youthful chamber works.

The Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano dates from 1911, when Kempff was studying composition with a former student of Brahms.

The lineage is easy to hear. Kempff develops his thematic material in the same fashion as Brahms. There are not extra-musical associations here. Like Brahms, Kempff develops his motifs in a methodical, logical fashion.

At times the piano seems to have an oil and water relationship with the strings. Granted, Kempff was only sixteen when he wrote this trio. I was a little surprised, though, at the somewhat pedestrian nature of the piano’s music. I was expecting a little more from the composer writing for his own instrument (even a very young composer). Rather than three equal voices, many times I heard strings plus piano accompaniment.

More successful is the 1920 Quartet in G major for flute, violin, cello, and piano. Kempff had completed his studies and was touring as a concert pianist. The piano writing is much more fully realized, and decidedly more interesting. And one can hear Kempff’s overall growth as a composer. The instruments are more fully integrated, with every instrument contributing equally.

The material Kempff works with seems more fully developed, too. Kempff does more with his thematic material in this work, breaking motifs down to their component parts and reassembling them in interesting ways.

The Quartetto Raro performs well, but I had a problem with the blend. I’m not sure if its the way the ensemble was recorded, or the way they played. For most of the recording I heard the instruments as individual voices, but seldom blending as an ensemble.

I’d call this a good but not great recording of good but not great chamber music. I love exploring the repertoire, so I enjoyed this release. If my caveat doesn’t put you off, you may as well.

Wilhelm Kempff: Chamber Music
Quartet in G major Op.15 for flute, violin, cello and piano’ Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano
Quartetto Raro
Brilliant Classics 95629

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