Rudolf Kempe: The Genius of the Podium
Full track details at end of review
rec. 1956-72
EMI CLASSICS ICON 50999 629557 2 [11 CDs: 75:56 + 73:46 + 72:19 + 74:52 + 74:59 +72:21 + 75:14 + 78:51 + 73:17 + 78:29 +73:30]

Sampling these eleven discs has been a real pleasure, whether in coming across old friends or making new acquaintances. It’s not been an unmitigated critical success, but one would hardly expect that, even in a box that has been filleted from Kempe’s commercial EMI discography to put his best face forward.

The recording dates range from 1956 to 1972 and the orchestras are various. The repertoire is standard, non-contentious, central European, Austro-Germanic (in the main). Examples of the more exploratory side of his concert-giving can easily be found in live encounters.

We start with some examples of his Munich Beethoven cycle – Nos.1, 3, 5 and 6. These are relaxed performances, affectionately contoured and stressing the cantabile element rather more than the viscous driving one. Some will find them too laid-back rhythmically, whilst others will welcome the unselfconscious unfolding of melodic lines. Certainly they are internally enviably well-balanced, though occasional smudges and imprecisions are noticeable. I’d label these easy-going, rather than exciting. I’m glad that we have his Berlin Brahms 3, which is outstanding, a truly structure-conscious and expressively finely judged performance - witness the semi shambles Furtwängler made of it. His Fourth with the RPO is not quite so successful, but it is an affirming, powerful reading nonetheless.

The fourth disc gives us some Mendelssohn and then majors on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. The soloist, unmentioned in the booklet, was Alan Loveday who plays beautifully. This is a good performance all round though it’s not in the Kletzki or Beecham class, to cite two almost contemporaneous recordings of the work. I wasn’t especially taken by Dvorák Nine, which seems rather bland. The other Czech items go quite well – the Schwanda the Bagpiper lollipop, the suite from The Bartered Bride and the Scherzo Capriccioso; all these are with the RPO whilst the New World was taped with the Berlin Phil.

Strauss next and that’s surely self-recommending. Don Quixote dates from Berlin in 1958 with Tortelier, Giusto Cappone and old-stager Siegfried Borries; it’s every bit as good as its reputation suggests. Later, in his Dresden sequence of Strauss recordings, we have Tod und Verklärung, Till, Don Juan, Ein Heldenleben and the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. Heldenleben features the orchestra’s concertmaster Peter Mirring in a stirring inscription. And we also get 1968 excerpts from Ariadne auf Naxos – about eleven minutes’ worth. This actually inaugurates a series of sequences from Wagner; Lohengrin and Meistersinger, and then the standard orchestral fare from Tristan and Parsifal. They are meant, presumably, to whet one’s appetite for the complete Ariadne, Lohengrin and Meistersinger, though as ever with selections of this kind one can’t help wondering if purely orchestral material might not have been a more just approach.

After a suite from Hänsel und Gretel we reach disc 10, entitled ‘Vienna Philharmonic on Holiday’ and that about sums up the sequence of intermezzi, waltzes, dances, ballet music, overtures and Schubert’s Rosamunde. The last disc is given over to the delectable Strauss family waltz recordings that he made with the same orchestra in 1958 and 1960.

Skimming the surface of a box such as this gives one an indication of the variety and elevated music-making it contains. Not everything is equally persuasive, but that’s to be expected. At his best Kempe’s directness and sense of colour and structure never fail to impress. This fine box offers some excellent performances spiced by light-hearted fun in the last two discs.

Jonathan Woolf

This fine box offers some excellent performances spiced by light-hearted fun in the last two discs.

Full Track Details

CD 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 [25:43]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica' [49:29]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 2
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 [33:19]
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 'Pastoral' [39:49]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 3
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 [32:11]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 [39:57]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 4
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night's Dream - incidental music, Op. 61 [28:52]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade, Op. 35 [45:57]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 5
Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 'From the New World' [40:51]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 [12:39]
Jaromir WEINBERGER (1896-1967)
Schwanda the Bagpiper - Polka [2:28]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
The Bartered Bride – suite [18:37]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 6
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote, Op. 35 [41:50]
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 [22:23]
Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils [8:22]
Staatskapelle Dresden

CD 7
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 [14:40]
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 [43:31]
Don Juan [16:07]
Staatskapelle Dresden

CD 8
Ariadne auf Naxos - Kindskopf! Merkt auf, wir spielen mit in dem Stück (Sylvia Geszty, Teresa Zylis-Gara, Gundula Janowitz)
An ihre Plätze, meine Damen und Herrn!
Theo Adam
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin: Preludes to Acts 1 and 3 [11:57]; Bridal Chorus 'Treulich geführt' [4:57]
Heil, König Heinrich! [5:02]; Was bringen die? [2:49]; Mein Herr und König [5:28]
In fernem Land [6:13]
Jess Thomas (tenor) and Gottlob Frick (bass); Choir of the Vienna State Opera/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Act III Selig, wie die Sonne [7:39] Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein 'Prize Song' [7:25] lhr tanzt? Was werden die Meister sagen? [5:26] Verachtet mir die Meister nicht [6:22]
Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano); Marga Höffgen (mezzo); Rudolf Schock (tenor) Gerhard Unger (tenor), Ferdinand Frantz (bass-baritone), Choir of the Deutschen Opera and Staatsopera Berlin, Choir of St Hedwigs-Cathedral, Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 9
Tristan and Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod [15:45]
Parsifal – Act I Prelude [15;45] and Act III Good Friday Music [12:30]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel and Gretel Suite (arr. Kempe) Overture; Witch's Ride; Gingerbread House; Witch’s Waltz; Traumszene [26:02]
CD 10
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
L'Amico Fritz: Intermezzo [4:10]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
La Gioconda – Dance of the Hours [9:16]
Framz SCHMIDT (1874-1939)
Notre Dame – intermezzo [3;32]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust – Waltz Act II [5:17]
Josef BAYER (1852-1913)
Die Puppenfee – ballet music [10:53]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Orphée aux enfer – overture [9:27]
Jakov GOTOVAC (1895-1982)
Ero, der Schelm – Kolo [6:08]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rosamunde – incidental music D797 [22:24]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orphee et Eurydice – Dance of the Blessed Spirits (arr. Mottl) [7:19]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

CD 11
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus – overture [8:14]
G’schichten aus dem Wienerwald Op.325 [12:05]
Leichtes Blut - polka Op.319 [2:33]
Tausend und eine Nacht – waltz Op.346 [6:52]
Im Krapenwald’l – polka françaises Op.336 [4:21]
Kaiserwalzer Op.437 [10:27]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Dynamiden – waltz Op.173 [8:00]
Sphärenlange – waltz Op.235 [8:27]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
Radetzky March Op.228 [2:56]
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Gold und Silber – waltz [8:55]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rudolf Kempe
EMI CLASSICS ICON 629557 2 [11 CDs; 75:56 + 73:46 + 72:19 + 74:52 + 74:59 +72:21 + 75:14 + 78:51 + 73:17 + 78:29 +73:30]