Wilhelm Kempff, Piano – Zubin Mehta, conductor – Los Angeles Philharmonic In Concert – December 5, 1965 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Historic, long-lost and not heard before. An all-Brahms concert from December 5, 1965 featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Zubin Mehta and featuring the legendary Wilhelm Kempff in a performance of the first piano concerto followed by the 2nd symphony.
“Kempff was neither a daredevil at the keyboard nor one to venerate technique for technique’s sake, his pianism marked above all by clarity of tone, judicious tempos, magical soft playing and a famously lyrical legato. Alfred Brendel, a later pianist influenced by Kempff, valued the elder artist’s improvisational manner, writing that he “played on impulse… It depended on whether the right breeze, as with an aeolian harp, was blowing.” The New York Times spoke to this quality in a review of his Beethoven: “A poetic subjectivist, Kempff rolls chords, ‘breaks’ hands, pedals through the bar — all at the service of a sustained interpretive imprint that often violates the letter in search of the spirit, and that often impregnates spirit with visual metaphor.” Kempff toured the world, from across Europe to North America and Japan. In 1934, he arrived in Buenos Aires as a celebrity via the Graf Zeppelin for a tour of South America. Kempff began teaching in the 1920s, in Stuttgart and Potsdam. He then established a school in his adopted Italian town of Positano, giving master classes there until the 1980s, with Mitsuko Uchida, Idil Biret, Gerhard Oppitz, John O’Conor and Jörge Demus among the pianists to carry on his message of subtlety, poetry and humanism. In 1957, Kempff had traveled to Finland to play for the ailing Sibelius, a great admirer. The composer requested the Adagio from Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier,” saying afterward: “You did not play that as a pianist, but rather as a human being.” — Bradley Bambarger
Mehta was music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from 1961 to 1967 and of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978, the youngest music director ever for any major North American orchestra. In 1969, he was appointed Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1981 he became its Music Director for Life. From 1978 to 1991, Mehta was music director of the New York Philharmonic. Since 1985, he has also been chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, Italy.
With all that said, enjoy the concert – it’s rare – it’s never been broadcast – it was supposed to be destroyed. You get to hear it and history is preserved.