Picks and Pans Review: Beethoven: Hammerklavier, Pathétique and Waldstein Sonatas
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
One of the more notable recent trends in the music business is the cassette-only release. Reacting to the Walkman and car-stereo booms and anemia in the record trade, semi-underground recording companies have been releasing adventurous new acts on cassette. Meanwhile, some mainstream pop labels have been offering two best-selling albums by one artist (such as Columbia's pairing of Sketches of Spain and In a Silent Way by Miles Davis) on a single tape at a special price. Classical labels have been, if anything, even more active. RCA has so far released 20 old and sometimes out-of-print Red Seal recordings on mid-priced cassettes (with some 80 more planned). Other labels are compiling theme cassettes and single-composer samplers that offer 90 minutes or more of playing time. One of the most useful and satisfying of the genre is Deutsche Grammophon's matching of three indispensable Beethoven sonatas recorded by Kempff in 1964 and 1965. It's the inclusion of the extraordinary Hammerklavier that seals the value of this release, one of the projected 100 in DG's new Basics series. Being able to savor uninterrupted on one side of a tape the pathos and imperious scale of Beethoven's longest sonata is a new and edifying experience. Kempff, a German-born specialist in the classical and romantic repertories, was in his late 60s when he made these recordings. Generating precision and power without sacrificing color, dynamics or natural motion, he shows the attributes that make him one of the century's acknowledged Beethoven masters.
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