Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kempff's First Op. 111

The last of Beethoven's mighty series of piano sonatas, the great Op. 111 in C minor, was first recorded in 1932 by Artur Schnabel, and issued in the first volume of HMV's Beethoven Sonata Society, which was a limited edition.  So the work didn't receive widespread distribution on records until the mid-1930s, when versions appeared by Egon Petri (for Columbia), Wilhelm Backhaus (also for HMV), Elly Ney (for Electrola) and this one by Wilhelm Kempff:

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Recorded c. 1936
French Polydor 516.743 through 516.745, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.14 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.65 MB)

As with his version of the "Hammerklavier" Sonata recorded at about the same time, this was the first of three recordings Kempff was to make of the work.  The other two belonged to complete Beethoven cycles in the early 50s (mono) and the 60s (in stereo), also for Deutsche Grammophon.

My copy of this, on French Polydor, was imported into the USA after the Second World War by Vox, and issued by them in an album, No. 455 - a curious procedure for them, but fortunate, for they normally pressed their own dubbings of Polydor material, and inferior dubbings at that, on inferior shellac.  This is the only imported set of theirs I've ever seen - does anyone else know of any other?


  1. I have another one, the early Beethoven concerto done by Frugoni and Paray. The labels are a later style, and the album is a spiffy padded cream-colored one. I've seen a pic of the LP version, in a similar album but with what looks like a US pressing.

  2. Re: The KEMPFF, Op. 111

    This is a masterly transfer. The piano, I may aver, is a Bechstein, with soft hammers, and a completely different sound from a Steinway; a Steinway technician would tell you that the sound is muffled, dead; but, in fact, that's the way it's supposed to be. You could give it a more contemporary sound by pumping up the treble, and that is what some would do, but that would be wrong. However, especially in the first bars, this is a transfer that could benefit from Capstan (by Celimony) for pitch stabilization. Kempff's tonal control is so great and so sophisticated and many-shaded in this recording that I am willing to bet that this Bechstein uses the "rocker" or "tied" action that is the glory of the early 20th century Bechsteins. The tonal control available from these actions is infinite and they respond to different movements and even caresses with beautiful tones where with a Renner action you would probably not even get the note to register. One of the most impressive things about the recording and the transfer is the way it seems faithfully to preserve the infinite tonal variations between loud and soft. BRAVO ! Dr. John L. Duffy, M.D. in Walker, Iowa, USA {johnduffy at dybb.com}

    1. Most of Kempff's early recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas were transferred to CD and issued by Dante Productions in their Historical Piano Collection series. HPC109 contains Op. 111 and Op. 106, and appeared in 1995. Here is an extract from booklet note that came with this CD. It was written by Jean Charles Hoffelé

      "What is immediately obvious on listening to the 78s is the authority of the playing, married with a certain quality of touch that is not particularly German: a light touch, favouring the high notes, and and astounding agility. The instruments that Kempff played for these sessions were a Gotrian-Steinway, Gieseking's favourite piano maker, (opus 111 was recorded on one of these pianos) and several Bechsteins. The equality of the registers in these two pianos was unanimously acknowledged. It seems that for these two recordings made during the electric era, Kempff played on instruments that were very delicately adjusted and very sensitive to the una corda."

      Paul, UK {paul at pdchem.demon.co.uk}