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Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Russian romance and jazz

18 February 2019

Perth Festival review: Freddy Kempf ⋅
Government House Ballroom, February 17 ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅

The Perth Festival over its long history has enticed dozens of first-class pianists to our concert halls, and London-born pianist Freddy Kempf is another name to add to an already impressive list.

Kempf’s soloist style can best be described as aggression leavened with passages of pure lyricism and subtlety. Playing with confident bravura he brilliantly essayed two of the great Russian composers of the repertoire: Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. Sonatas by both composers made up the bulk of his program, each a masterclass in passionate, daring performance of what are complex, demanding works.

Seated at the great beast that is the ballroom’s Fazioli grand, the 41-year-old pianist played with an assurance, muscularity and musicality that suggested we were witnessing an authoritative voice in the highly competitive arena of the solo recitalist.

His playing of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1 and Sonata No. 8 and Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 revealed their power, complexity and subtlety. But the biggest revelation was the choice of the music of Nikolai Kapustin, a composer I suspect was not well-known by the capacity Festival audience.

The Russian-born Kapustin, now aged 81, was originally a jazz pianist and composer in jazz. It is this jazz background that comes into play in his Concert Etudes which are a fusion of classical composition and jazz. There is not the improvisational aspect of jazz in his studies, but instead a brilliant coming together of musical forms in his compositional style. Kempf’s understanding of the jazz idiom was just part of his complete mastery of performance, his technique well-equipped to transition in an instant from the strictures of classical music to the more swinging, chordal structure of jazz.

His interpretation of Kapustin sounded somewhat like Andre Previn in jazz-classic mode, and it would have been enjoyable to have heard some more of Kapustin beyond the three studies presented in the second half of the program. Overall, though, his choice of repertoire was excellent and Kempf’s brilliance should long be remembered as a Festival highlight. Hopefully he will return.

Pictured top: Freddy Kempf plays with confident bravura. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Ron Banks

Ron Banks has reviewed the arts in WA for more years than he cares to remember. A former arts editor of The West Australian, he has reviewed performances in spaces from a dozen seats to super-stadiums. His only time on stage was as a spear-carrier in the opera Aida at Singapore’s sports stadium. His favourite playground equipment is the flying fox.

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