Last week he was performing in Madrid, very soon it’s going to be Milan, but on Tuesday the world-renowned pianist Freddy Kempf was tempted to Codsall, where an enterprising arts festival is held every alternate spring.
Kempf makes it his duty to colour his playing to whatever instrument is allotted him, and to scale his delivery to the nature of the venue, just as he did here, in this cosy school hall with its rather dry acoustic.
Subtle pedalling sorted that out, and a remarkably responsive Steinway model ‘D’ supplied by the generous sponsors of the Harding Trust permitted a kaleidoscope of colour from this thoughtful young man.
There is a certainly a strong element of physicality to his readings, but never for display’s sake. Well-weighted movements allow Kempf to tease his own characterisations out of the music, as in Beethoven’s ‘les Adieux’ sonata, which emerged as a genuinely quixotic expression of parting and reconciliation.
Brahms’ lovely ’16 Waltzes’ oozed personality, now sturdy, now caressing, now teasing, and occasionally with a hint of Schubert’s earlier examples. By contrast, Chopin’s Third and Fourth Ballades were given with a contained strength and gradual raising of emotional temperature.
Best of all were Schumann’s magnificent ‘Etudes Symphoniques’, Kempf dovetailing the five extra posthumous Studies logically into the sequence, and making the work both an unfolding narrative and a well-etched art-gallery of vignettes -- as well as emphasising their technical brilliance actually as “studies”. The splendid finale was heroic and unsentimental, but doubtedly affecting for that, and Kempf’s firm grip meant that the delicious Les Dawson moment just before the end stood out like an endearing wink to us all.