Moscow Philharmonic dazzle, earning six encores
12 May 2017
Pianist Freddy Kempf outstanding star of brilliant night
An impressive crowd thronged the Corn Exchange last night, the queue curled back into Wheeler Street. True, the celebrated Moscow Philharmonic was in town, but there was something more at work to bring in the punters in such strength. One name said it all. 'It’s the Kempf effect,' explained the box office assistant, 'wherever he goes, it’s a sell out.' She meant of course Freddy Kempf, scheduled to show his skill with the famous orchestra for the first time in Cambridge.
Pianists do not come more fresh, famous and full of phenomenal talent. His success is already a modern legend, as a musician with unparalleled expressive power and an energetic physical style -- the classical world’s Ed Sheerin. Crouched over the piano in last night’s concert, for a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, he displayed the brilliance that has propelled him to international fame. He lifted the famously complex piece into another sphere of emotional intensity.
Born in London in 1977 Freddy has become a star, in demand from Sydney (doing a tour of Australia) to Seoul ( where his is to play with the Korean Philharmonic ), there is hardly a top orchestra that isn't desperate to host him. His acclaimed recordings range from swinging Gershwin to super sensitive Schuman yet he talks with relaxed candour about his worldwide performances.
'Audiences are so different around the globe,' he revealed in a pre-performance talk at Heffers Bookshop. ' In Japan you can hear a pin drop on stage, there is total silence. I even hurried off after my first piece, the applause was so thin, I worried they'd stop clapping before I got to the wings. But at the end of the concert they got going with real appreciation. In Italy, it's so different, a riot from the beginning and I have to start playing whilst they're still yelling and shouting.'
'How can he chat in such a relaxed way an hour before going on to play such an immensely demanding piece of work as Rachmaninoff?' marveled one listener at the talk.
Yet this young performer can switch from anecdotal fun to bruising soul-searing melancholy without missing a beat. Under the baton of super conductor Yuri Botnari, a Moldovan who bears the title 'Master of Culture', Freddy switched from young contemporary chat to the beautiful but anguished chords of this most difficult of classical pieces.
The Second Piano Concerto was Rachmaninoff’s comeback after his First Symphony catastrophically crashed that cast the young composer into a deep depression. Nothing could shift his composer’s bloc until he underwent hypnotherapy with a leading psychotherapist of the time, Dr. Dahl. Possibly his cure was encouraged by the doctor’s lovely daughter, but the passionate young musician emerged to write again – his entire suffering story contained in the timeless music that has haunted artists ever since.
Noel Coward insisted on it for his version of Brief Encounter and it often acts as the score for theatre and film with its special brand of tension, despair and longing. Freddy Kempf gave all those qualities to his rendition last night, a performance that raised a riot of delighted applause from this Cambridge audience – and called him back for three tumultuous accolades.
Yuri Botnari was on majestic form for the rest of the concert. Fellow countryman Musorgsky and his Pictures at an Exhibition as arranged by Ravel, finished the concert with some heavyweight Russian punch. Here was a conductor who nearly danced his way through the works, long grey hair bobbing his great arms in a wonderfully cut evening coat stretching across his orchestra like a version of Michaelangelo’s God at the moment of Creation.
Again the Cambridge music goers responded with rapturous appreciation and in the true Soviet style, the Maestro returned to the podium for a splendid encore, which I think, was Tchaikovsky. Generously it went on for 10 minutes – a bonus treat when most musicians would be back on the bus and half way to London – and followed by yet another encore amid the tumult of a roaring applause where his orchestra gave another lyrical Russian piece to the great delight of the concert goers.
A wonderful night of music – but it has to be said that, yet again the Corn Exchange proved a very cramped venue for so many players who looked squashed together on the inadequate stage. More proof that Cambridge deserves a proper concert hall to host the world’s most splendid players and their work – not to mention its exuberant music lovers.