Wilhelm Kempff (EMI Classic Archive Series) (2003)

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Released 17-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Bonus Track-Dino Ciani Plays Schumann and Bartók
Trailer-Classic Archive Collection - A Preview
DVD Credits
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 101:13 (Case: 112)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Gérard Herzog
Denise Billon
Claude Ventura
Yvonne Courson
Ideale Audience
EMI Music
Starring Wilhelm Kempff
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $35.95 Music Ludwig Van Beethoven
Robert Schumann

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 mono (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    When I first became interested in classical music, one of the first pianists I came across was the German Wilhelm Kempff, who was born in 1895. Performing in concerts from the 1910s, Kempff had a long and distinguished career, though he was somewhat overshadowed by his contemporaries Wilhelm Backhaus and Artur Schnabel. By all accounts Kempff seems to have been more comfortable in the recording studio than on the concert platform, and when long-playing records arrived in the 1950s he became internationally famous with recordings of the German classical-romantic repertoire, from Mozart to Brahms. Late in life he rediscovered Bach, though his reputation tends to rest on the cycles he recorded of the piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert. Forced to retire from performance in 1981 due to the onset of Parkinson's disease, he died in 1991 at the ripe old age of 95.

    His playing has a similar quality to that of Artur Rubinstein, an apparent spontaneity that is created by slight hesitations and variations in the spaces between notes. This can lead to the feeling that the work being played is being composed on the wing, and gives a sense that it is a recreation of the work as the composer imagined it. Well, we cannot really imagine what Beethoven was thinking when he wrote his numerous masterpieces for the fortepiano, and there are other performers like Schnabel whose approach to Beethoven is quite different and equally valid. Kempff's playing, though, has a special quality that breathes life into the music, and it is hard to imagine better performances than some of his recordings.

    Volume 24 of the Classic Archive series features Kempff in some of his key repertoire, with three Beethoven sonatas and two works by Schumann. These were recorded for television between 1961 and 1970 and are here shown in chronological order of performance. Kempff seems to be oblivious of the audience or the cameras. He often stares off into space as if transfixed by his own playing, an impression heightened in the earlier recordings by the use of extreme close-ups on his face. The Tempest sonata dates from a TV programme filmed in France in 1968, with the sonata already underway as Kempff appears in the studio, with a French announcer introducing him. Shortly after this he "catches up" with the music.

    Apart from the frequent use of close-ups, this material is well directed, eschewing the more modern style of frequent cuts and unusual camera angles. As an introduction to this great pianist, this disc is well worth the outlay.

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Track Listing

1. Arabeske in C Major Op 18
2. Papillons Op 2
3. Davidsbündlertänze Op 6
4. Piano Sonata No 17 Op 31 No 2
5. Piano Sonata No 14 in C sharp minor
6. Piano Sonata No 27 in E Minor Op 90

Transfer Quality


    All of the material is shown in the original television aspect ratio of 1.29:1, and there is no 16x9 enhancement.

    As usual, most of this material looks pretty bad, much like the early recordings of Doctor Who. The earlier performances here are in grainy black and white, with some of it appearing to be filmed rather than videotaped, given the occasional scratches. There is a fuzziness to the video that reduces the clarity. Still, this is as good a transfer as would be possible given the nature of the source material.

    The last two Beethoven sonatas are in colour, but that colour has all sorts of minor problems, with colour bleeding, cross-colouration, chroma noise and some comet trails visible. The edges of the pianist's coat are purple rather than the charcoal that they should be. Flesh tones are quite well reproduced. There are a few instances of minor aliasing and microphony.

    The disc is dual-layered, though there is no layer break within any of the works, and there are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track is Linear PCM 2.0 mono.

    The piano sound is quite well caught, particularly in the later recordings. There is no significant distortion and there is a nice frequency range, though the lower register on the early recordings is a little on the congested and boomy side. The higher notes tend to clatter a little. While this is not reference quality, even by the standards of the time, I have heard much worse on CD.

    Of the music, little need be said except that the Beethoven sonatas represent the greatest body of work in the form for the piano and they are almost perfectly rendered on this disc.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Dino Ciani Plays Schumann and Bartók (11:22)

    The Italian pianist, who tragically died in a car accident at the age of 33, plays Schumann's Noveletten Op. 21 No. 1 and Bartók's Out of Doors Nos. 4 & 5. Very well played performances, recorded in 1967. The black and white film is a little grainy, but the recorded sound is good.

Classic Archive Collection - A Preview (9:34)

    Nine short excerpts from other titles in the series, each running about 1 minute. There are also two pages listing earlier releases.

DVD Credits

    Eight pages of credits detailing the origin of the recordings and DVD production credits.


    A twenty-four page booklet with detailed track listings, and a three page essay by Stephen Plaistow which is repeated in several languages. There are also two photos of Kempff and one of Ciani.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This series is manufactured in the EU in both PAL and NTSC formats and distributed worldwide. This means that the Region 4 release is identical to the releases in other countries in content, and may differ only in television format. Therefore there is no reason not to buy locally, unless you can get a better price overseas.


    Superb performances by one of the greatest pianists of the last century.

    The video quality is not very good, but as good as it could be given the source material.

    The audio quality is quite good, considering.

    A short but impressive extra by this lesser-known Italian pianist cut down in his prime.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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