salutary to be reminded, in Alan Sanders’ note accompanying
this CD, just how short was Rudolf Kempe’s tenure of the
post of Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Though
the appointment was announced in December 1973 it did not
take effect until autumn 1975. A comparative handful of concerts
followed before Kempe’s untimely death in May 1976. To judge
from his work with, among other orchestras, the Royal Philharmonic,
the Zurich Tonhalle and the Munich Philharmonic, he might
have achieved great things with the BBC Symphony had he lived
longer – he had already worked with them quite a bit, and
to very good effect, since the early 1960s. In particular,
as Mr Sanders points out, he might have had more opportunities
to programme adventurous repertoire with them.
discography is not vast but most of it is distinguished.
One thinks, for example, of his superb, and still unsurpassed, intégrale of
Richard Strauss’s orchestral music with the Dresden Staatskapelle
(EMI) to say nothing of the marvellous Brahms symphony cycle
set down with the Berlin Philharmonic between 1956 and 1960
and now happily available through Testament (SBT 3054). This
present issue very neatly fills some gaps in his discography.
So far as I’m aware he only made a commercial recording of
one of the works included here - the Haydn symphony – and
I’m not at all sure that that recording is currently in the
Haydn comes from what seems to have been his first Festival
Hall concert with the orchestra as their chief. It is, of
course, “big band” Haydn but it’s none the worse for that
although the trumpets do rather blare at the very start of
the work. I like Kempe’s approach to the first movement allegro,
which is full of purpose and where he gets his players to
shade the music very nicely. The Andante is taken, perhaps,
just a touch on the steady side but it’s affectionately shaped
and played. The minuet is sturdy but energetic and I appreciated
the gracefully flowing trio, where there’s some nice work
from the principal bassoon. The finale is marked Spiritoso and
Kempe does indeed ensure it’s played with spirit. All in
all, this is a most enjoyable performance. The sound is fully
satisfactory though I rather prefer the sound that BBC engineers
obtained in the same hall for Eugen Jochum and the LPO in
Haydn a couple of years earlier (BBCL 4176-2 - see review).
sound for the Britten item is preferable. The orchestra is
more distanced from the microphones and one gets a better
sense of the ambience of the hall. This performance comes
from Kempe’s very next concert with the orchestra. Britten
is not a composer with whom one associates this conductor
but he does the Sea Interludes very well, with a good
sense of drama – Kempe was, after all, a superb opera conductor.
He moulds the opening movement, ‘Dawn’, skilfully. One senses
concentration and atmosphere. In the next movement, ‘Sunday
Morning’, the tempo for the initial material is pretty sprightly
and I find that this works well, even more so when Britten
returns to that music towards the close of the movement.
The ‘Moonlight’ section is quite brooding and the concluding ‘Storm’ is
potent and frightening. Here a special word of praise for
the timpanist, who helps to drive the storm music along with
some fiery and exciting playing. Once or twice in this movement
I got the feeling that the orchestra was a bit taxed but
the brass are splendidly incisive. The movement comes to
a thrilling end with a defiant slam.
Shostakovich performance was given some ten years earlier
and it’s especially valuable since it’s the only known recording
by Kempe of a symphony by the Russian master. He points the
quirky first movement well and several BBC SO principals
distinguish themselves with some good solo work. The perky
clarinet, bassoon and trumpet solos are particularly good.
I like the way Kempe ensures that the orchestral textures
are, for the most part, lean and spare throughout the symphony.
Much of the music of the second movement is scampering stuff
and it’s brought off well in this performance. Here the piano
really comes to the fore on occasions. The only comparative
let down is the three emphatic chords for solo piano (at
3:35). These sound a bit lightweight. Kempe controls the
slow movement well, releasing it’s brooding power. This is
a “big” movement, certainly much bigger than its eight-minute
time span suggests. The reading of the finale is vivid and
exciting. The recorded sound is a touch dry and studio-bound
but it’s still more than acceptable, especially when one
reflects that the recording was made forty years ago.
CD contains three very good performances and collectors who
share my enthusiasm for the work of this very fine, musical
conductor will snap it up gratefully.
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