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Paul van Kempen Volume 2
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 104
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Symphony No.5
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No.9
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Paul van Kempen
Recorded 1943
TAHRA TAH 514-515 [2 CDs 55.49 + 52.16]


Tahra is embarking on a van Kempen (1893-1955) reissue programme of which this is the second volume. The first includes Beethoven (Symphony No.8) and Liszt (Les Préludes), and Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with Adrian Aeschbacher whilst the third has Bruckner No.4, more Liszt and a torso of the New World Symphony amongst others. The central volume has three symphonies all recorded during May 1943 in the Concertgebouw. This was a busy time for the Dutchman who had been appointed conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic in 1934 – and who then moved on to Aachen in 1942. All of his recordings up to this point had been made in Germany, as the very handy 78 discography included as a booklet demonstrates, and this trio of symphonic recordings represents his first discs with his old orchestra (he’d played as a violinist in the Concertgebouw under Mengelberg). Prior to this he was principally noted on record as an accompanist – to such notable players as violinists Kulenkampff, Stanske (Mozart K218) and de Vito (Brahms), pianist Kempff – including a good C minor Concerto in 1942 - and cellist Mainardi (in the Dvořák and Schumann). It is true that he was also given some prestigious symphonic assignments and he laid down competitive versions of symphonies by Schumann and Beethoven. Shortly after these Concertgebouw recordings he went back to Berlin to set down the Dvořák Violin Concerto with Příhoda – a classic recording, now thankfully available on Symposium.

This trio of Symphonies shows a conscientious, diligent and frequently acute musical personality at work and in the Schubert one who could rise to moments of considerable and visceral power and engagement. In addition the Polydors were very well recorded for their time and reveal considerable detail. His Haydn is good but not outstanding. The Andante features some fine wind playing from the principals and a good robust sense of direction and it’s not surprising, given his past life as a rank and file violinist that he shows sensitive regard for the string lines here and elsewhere. His Sibelius tends to be rather clear and careful and doesn’t hang around. I liked the rugged sonorities he cultivates in the finale though it does come at the cost of a bit of overload at a few points – but there is a driving accumulation of momentum that makes fine logical sense, even if such as Kajanus and Collins (two of my favourite early recordings of the work) are by no means challenged. The pick of the three is, however, the Schubert. Van Kempen moulds the Andante with great understanding, ensuring separation and aeration of texture between the string and wind choirs and when it comes to the finale he brings real electricity to much of the movement, not least the superb coda. Throughout he does engage in some compellingly personal gear changes – not to all tastes – but it’s a convincing and total vision of the work, excellently realised by an acutely responsive orchestra.

This slim-line double contains very successful transfers and brings back to circulation wartime recordings of real value. In the Schubert one finds the best of him – but he was never a negligible conductor and almost everything he recorded was of some value.

Jonathan Woolf


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