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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1 Op. 46 (1888) [12:31]
Peer Gynt, Suite No. 2 Op. 55 (1893) [14:27]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op.82 (1919) [29:35]
Symphony No.7 in C major, Op.105 (1924) [16:14]
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra (Grieg), Concertgebouw Orchestra (5), Hilversum Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (7)/Paul van Kempen
rec. May 1939 (1), April 1940 (2), May 1943 (5), May 1950 (7)

There are three orchestras involved in this disc, which traces van Kempen’s enthusiasm for Scandinavian music from just before the war in Dresden, through a 1943 recording of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony in Amsterdam to the 1950 reading of the Seventh with the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic.

His trajectory from a first violinist in the Concertgebouw in 1914, through positions as concertmaster in Germany, led to the principal conductorship of the Dresden Philharmonic in 1934, by which time he had become a German citizen. He succeeded Karajan in Aachen in 1942 and in 1953 became conductor in Bremen. Naturally this didn’t play well in Holland and there were demonstrations when he returned to conduct. He died at 62 in 1955 in Amsterdam.

He recorded the Peer Gynt suites in successive years. Suite No.1 was recorded in May 1939, the companion just under a year later, in April 1940 and both show a highly proficient and characterful approach to the scores. The wartime shellacs may have a relatively high ration of noise, but the particular qualities of the Dresden orchestra emerge almost wholly unscathed

At the height of the war he returned to Amsterdam to record Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony for Grammophon. This has been reissued before and on its appearance on a Tahra salute to the conductor (TAH 514-515) I wrote that it tends to be rather clear and careful and doesn’t hang around. I liked the rugged sonorities cultivated in the finale and there is a driving accumulation of momentum that makes fine logical sense, even if such as Kajanus and Collins (two favourite early recordings of the work) are by no means challenged. There is much more surface noise in the Tahra transfer and Pristine has retained an amount of thistling noise the better to retain full frequencies.

The Seventh Symphony followed in May 1950 with the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic for Telefunken 78s. It’s been transferred from the LP transfer that followed. Mark Obert-Thorn calls it one of the fastest recordings of the symphony, but I’d like to hear a faster one. It lasts 16 minutes. The control of the complex material is absolute, and it is a remarkable example of the operation of rhythm and articulation. But it is also brusque in the extreme – most recordings clock in around 22 minutes – and in places the paragraphs take on an almost frenzied, breathless quality. Not for every day, then, but as a singular example, it’s certainly worth hearing, even if it proves utterly alienating. Some might argue that it takes the rather objectified quality present in the recording of No.5 to its brazenly logical conclusion.

Food for thought then in this stimulating release.

Jonathan Woolf


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