Love was definitely in the air at Freddy Kempf’s St. Valentine’s Day Concert. He gave a passion-filled performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Op. 13, ‘Pathétique’ to open the night, which was fitting with the nature of the title. The true ‘Pathétique’ should have passionate expression that should be felt by the heart and transcend mere variations in tempo. Kempf mastered all three movements and what was so important was that he was not afraid to use silence for effect in the music. The middle movement was gentle and loving, lulling the audience into a false sense of security before a great increase in tempo and dynamics to a superb finale.

Freddy Kempf, © Tim Hamilton 2010
Freddy Kempf,
© Tim Hamilton 2010

Continuing with another Beethoven Sonata, Kempf performed the Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a, ‘Les Adieux’. It should technically be named ‘Das Lebewohl’ because the three syllables in this German word (meaning ‘Farewell’) determine the shape of the opening theme – and besides, Beethoven didn’t approve of its French equivalent. The theme was physically acted out by Kempf whilst keeping a beautiful tone, contrasting nicely between the two thematic ideas of the excitement of the return and the sadness of the farewell. It had a wonderful climactic ending, and was followed by the Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 by Chopin, during which you could see couples putting their arms around each other in the audience. The variations were subtle but built upon a very simple but effective melody. It was the perfect piece to leave the audience wanting more for the second half of the concert.

Freddy Kempf is known widely for his unusually large repertoire and has a unique reputation for being physical and explosive as a performer. He is not afraid to take risks, yet at the same time has a serious and incredibly sensitive side to his stage presence. This was demonstrated well in the opening of the second half when, whilst the audience was still unsettled, Kempf punched the first three opening chords of the Liszt piece Cujus animam boldly on the piano. This, and the final piece of the concert, Chopin’s Ballade no. 3 in A flat, Op. 47, really leapt out as two of the greatest performances of the evening. The climactic nature of both pieces leant themselves well to the theme of love. The penultimate 16 Waltzes, Op. 39 by Johannes Brahms was a deliciously confident performance allowing Kempf to demonstrate a range of emotions, as each waltz had a very different flavour. It was a sensitive and thoughtful performance which led to much applause.

Throughout the second half of the concert, Freddy Kempf received not only applause but also cheers and, at the end, foot-stomping, to which he responded, after coming out to bow four times, with an encore of Chopin’s Etude, Op. 3 no. 10. It was truly a piece of his heart which had been given to the audience: what better way to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day than with a man who truly captured our hearts and expressed his true love for the piano?

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