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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op. 36 (1799-1802) [32:54]
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60 (1806) [32:39]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe
rec. 15-20 December 1972, 27-30 April 1973 (2), 16-19 April 1973, Bürgerbräukeller, Munich
EMI CLASSICS 7353022 [65:46]

This timely reissue reminds us what a fine conductor Rudolf Kempe was. He seems to be particularly associated with Richard Strauss. In fact his repertoire was wider than maybe thought, and would have widened further but for his death at 65, as the contents of the excellent EMI Icon box reviewed by my colleague Jonathan Woolf show. There is also a box, which I also own, from Testament (SBT12 1281), very reasonably priced (between £46 and £85 on Amazon) which has 12 CDs covering a broad repertoire. This includes a thrilling Scheherazade. The aforementioned budget Icon includes Beethoven 1, 3, 5 and 6 so this disc avoids duplication. The Munich cycle was the first to be recorded in quadraphonic which shared the same fate as DVD audio. It was available in a super budget box about 12 years ago. Now EMI are releasing them all on separate discs, which makes them more expensive than Rattle, Barenboim or Chailly.
The Second Symphony has been much played by me over the past 25 years since I heard Sir Thomas Beecham’s version (EMI) now on an excellent compilation The Later Tradition. However I remember, when at school, loving the finale when I heard it on the BBC’s Third Programme, unaware of the composer! Kempe is a sheer joy from start to finish with great shaping of lines and wonderful playing and recording. Prior to playing this for the third time I played Celibidache (EMI 0 85566 2) from a 14 CD super budget set, conducting the same Orchestra in 1996 from his last concert. He takes 39:18 (not including applause track) compared to Kempe’s 32:54! Great playing and worth hearing but not for everyday although I agree with Colin Anderson reviewing an earlier set “The music speaks, suspirates, and has a vital inner life”. I will certainly return to Kempe’s 2 often and will explore the symphonies I haven’t heard yet. The extended recording dates have no detrimental effect on the recording.
Symphony 4 can too easily be overlooked, coming as it does between the Eroica and the Fifth. I’ve always loved it since I played my grandfather’s LP of it over forty years ago. I heard a wonderful performance three years ago at the Proms by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle. Kempe’s recording is in the same class, right from the first chords. Berlioz claimed that the second movement was the work of the Archangel Michael and not that of a human. Listening to the wonderful playing of the Munich Philharmonic, with superb strings, woodwinds and horns it’s easy to agree. Kempe’s tempo in the third movement strikes me as ideal. I will be reviewing Klemperer on Pristine Audio soon, so it will be interesting to compare. The symphony comes to a triumphant conclusion in the finale with all the excitement and spontaneity of a live performance.
I got much pleasure from playing this disc; it will please everyone who isn’t already overdosed on Beethoven and perhaps those as well! I’m not even going to compare the hordes of alternatives but at this price it’s a bargain!
A superb performance of much performed repertory that deserves to be heard.
David R Dunsmore   

Masterwork Index: Symphony 2 ~~ Symphony 4