Freddy Kempf
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Russian romance and jazz

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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Freddy Kempf
Calendar, Music, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Freddy Kempf in Recital

17 February @ Government House Ballroom ·
Presented by Freddy Kempf ·

An audience with pianist Freddy Kempf is an exhilarating experience – whether his fingers are glittering at breakneck speed across the keys or he’s exquisitely serenading you with a deft emotional touch. Kempf is one of today’s most successful pianists performing to sell-out audiences all over the world. Exceptionally gifted with an unusually road repertoire, he has built a unique reputation as both an explosive and physical performer who is not afraid to take risks, as well as a serious, sensitive and profoundly musical artist.

Kempf’s strong rapport with Russia and its music, developed over years of frequent concert engagements and a language fluency to rival the locals,began in 1998 as he won the hearts of Moscow audiences in the TchaikovskyPiano Competition. Few contemporary pianists have the measure of these iconic monuments of 19th century pianism quite like he does. His often-called meteoric rise to the stage has now stood the test of time, and while the music he champions seems to always require nerves of steel and highly impressive dexterity, his experience and deep understanding of the repertoire will blow you away.

Freddy Kempf is certainly no stranger to piano enthusiasts, but this opportunity to hear him perform in the beautiful surrounds of the Government House Ballroom will be a truly special experience.

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Pictured: Freddy Kempf, credit: Nada Navaee

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