Wilhelm Kempff. Acoustic Polydor Recordings, Part 1

I first got to know Wilhelm Kempff’s playing from his second complete Beethoven Sonata cycle, as did many who grew up the in 1960s, along with the always available and essential Schnabel, of course. Only later did I become familiar with his early Lp cycle, and then last of all, courtesy of the cd issues on the now defunct Dante/Lys label, his nearly complete cycle for Polydor from the 1930s and 40s. But, these recordings are his very first of the works that he returned to so often, recorded in the acoustic era for Polydor, and still not reissued. Kempff recorded eight of the sonatas in 1924-25. I only have these three, but he also recorded Nos. 12, 21, 26, 27 and 28 acoustically. His first record was made in 1920 (of Beethoven’s Bagatelle, Op. 33, #5 and the Ecossaisen, where he famously is supposed to have exclaimed “Donnerwetter”! when hitting a wrong note, but the record was issued anyway!). Like the later electrical 78rpm versions, there’s a certain flexibility that is of a different variety compared to the stereo remakes. Just one example is the interesting double dotting of the chords in the “Pathetique” Sonata’s first movement (at the :50 mark). Recognizably quirky touches are already present in these recordings, like the oddly light and clipped final chords of the last movements of the “Appassionata”and “Moonlight” Sonatas. The sound is certainly not equal to the wonderful depth of the electrical 78s, but the ear soon adjust, and Kempff’s beautiful, lyrical tone is captured well. I’m working on the acoustic Beethoven First Piano Concerto as well, and should be able to offer that soon. Hopefully, I’ll be able to locate sources for the other early Beethoven recordings as well sometime soon!

Sonata No. 8 in c, Op. 13 (Pathetique).
Polydor 66176/7 (matr. 1712/5as)
Sonata No. 14 in c#, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight)
Polydor 66172/3
Sonata No. 23 in f, Op. 57 (Appassionata).
Polydor 66033/5 (matr. 1688 1/2, 1689, 1690, 1691, 1692 1/2, 1693 1/2)

Italian Concerto in F, mvt. 3: Presto
Cantata 29: Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir: Sinfonia (arr. Kempff).
Polydor 65700 (matr. 1095as, 1098 1/2as)

Recorded 1924-25


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