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Rudolf Kempe [Rudolf Kempe, Joan Alexander] [ICA Classics: ICAC 5117]

Joan Alexander , BBC Symphony Orchestra , London Symphony Orchestra , Mahler , Wagner , et al. Audio CD
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £9.60 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Rudolf Kempe [Rudolf Kempe, Joan Alexander] [ICA Classics: ICAC 5117] + Rudolf Kempe [Rudolf Kempe] [ICA Classics: ICAD 5119] [DVD] [2013]
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Product details

  • Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
  • Composer: Mahler, Wagner, Mendelssohn
  • Audio CD (4 Nov 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ICA Classics
  • ASIN: B00FABG4JK
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 190,047 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Heiter, Bedächtig. Nicht Eilen
2. In Gemächlicher Bewegung, Ohne Hast
3. Ruhevoll, Poco Adagio
4. Sehr Behaglich
5. Prelude to Act 1 - BBC Symphony Orchestra
6. Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95 - London Symphony Orchestra

Product Description

Product Description

The highly distinguished conductor Rudolf Kempe (1910–1976) started as an oboist with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. During the Second World War, he was chief conductor of the Chemnitz Opera until 1946. He then worked at Weimar for the 1948–9 season, before joining the Dresden Opera and becoming chief conductor. From 1952 to 1954, he was chief conductor of the Bavarian State Opera, which he conducted at Covent Garden in 1953 to great acclaim.

He quickly became highly regarded in England and was offered the chief conductorship of the Covent Garden Opera twice. Although he declined these invitations, he worked with the company frequently, and in 1957 conducted a memorable account of Wagner's Ring cycle, which established his reputation as a Wagnerian of the highest calibre. In 1961, Sir Thomas Beecham effectively appointed Kempe to become his successor as chief conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a post which Kempe held until 1975, when he moved to the BBC Symphony Orchestra prior to his untimely death in 1976.

The recording of Mahler's Symphony No.4 came about due to the ill-heath of Bruno Walter. One of Walter's programmes was to have consisted of Mahler's Fourth Symphony and it was this work that Kempe, substituting for Walter, conducted in studio performances on 12 and 14 May 1957. The quality of the performance of the Mahler stands as a tribute to the great conductorial skills of Kempe, then establishing himself as a major international musical presence.

Mahler's Symphony No.4 is a new addition to the Kempe discography. The recording, which was discovered in the Music Preserved archive in York, is very rare, a collector's item. Similarly, Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas Overture is a new addition to the conductor's discography. It is heard here in a fiery performance captured live from the Royal Festival Hall in 1967 with the LSO.

Kempe's account of the Prelude to Act I of Wagner's Parsifal, recorded in 1965, confirms his status as one of the greatest Wagnerian conductors of the 20th century. His Covent Garden performances of Parsifal in 1959 were landmarks for the company.

Product Description

Mahler : Symphonie n°4 - Wagner : Prélude à l'acte I de Parsifal - Mendelssohn : Ouverture Ruy Blas / BBC Symphony Orchestra - London Symphony Orchestra - Rudolf Kempe, direction

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately, nothing special 22 Dec 2013
By Ralph Moore TOP 50 REVIEWER
As an ardent Kempe fan, I had been hoping that these previously unpublished recordings would be in stereo but their sound in fact constitutes the single biggest drawback to this ICA issue: it is muddy and opaque with a continuous tinny overlay such as one hears on 78's; I would have hoped for better. The 1967 recording of the Mendelssohn overture is of marginally superior quality but there is nothing here for the audiophile and I suspect that only Kempe devotees and completists will want this ICA disc. Unfortunately, the hiss is even more pronounced on headphones.

The performances themselves, made in front of a generally very quiet studio audience and at the Royal Festival Hall, are typical of Kempe's direct, unfussy interpretative approach: the Mahler symphony is the briskest I know but the conductor understands how sustained momentum in Mahler cannot be bought at the expense of lilt and charm and he remains mindful of Mahler's instruction, "Nicht eilen". This is Mahler which remains humorous; it sings, swings and chuckles in the Scherzo-like second movement, yet the Adagio is wonderfully serene. The phrasing in the upper strings is celestial and their intonation is excellent. Indeed, the BBC Symphony Orchestra plays exceptionally well, especially considering that in this era Mahler symphonies were hardly yet part of their regular repertoire. Less satisfactory is the Finale, which sounds as rushed as the timing suggests; soprano Jane Alexander is an adequate but unmemorable soloist.

The fillers are beautifully played: Kempe had a great affinity with Wagner's music, but the hiss and shallowness of the recorded sound do his interpretation no favours. He gives an energised account of "Ruy Blas".
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I have already reviewed the BBC recordings of Kempe`s interpretations of Mahler`s 1st and 2nd symphonies which would have been awarded 5 stars if the recordings had been in stereo. Like the previous reviewer, I was looking forward to this CD and on the whole was not disappointed. The first movement of the 4th symphony is surprising sprightly , yet imbued with the bucolic spirit which Mahler would have welcomed. This is followed by a joyous scherzo, but the 3rd movement ( marked "Ruhevoll, poco adagio") is the highlight of the symphony - mesmerising and emotional, yet at the same time calm and unhurried. I know nothing of the soloist , Joan Alexander but her performance in the last movement was adequate , if not inspiring. Coupled with a heart-felt rendering of the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner`s Parsifal and a lively Overture to Ruy Blas, the CD is excellent value for money, but why oh why did the BBC not record , at least the Wagner (1965) and Mendelssohn ( 1967) in stereo . I did not expect the recordings to be of audiophile quality, so tape hiss and muffled sound did not prove a drawback, but the mono recording did, hence 4 stars not five.
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately, nothing special 22 Dec 2013
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
As an ardent Kempe fan, I had been hoping that these previously unpublished recordings would be in stereo but their sound in fact constitutes the single biggest drawback to this ICA issue: it is muddy and opaque with a continuous tinny overlay such as one hears on 78's; I would have hoped for better. The 1967 recording of the Mendelssohn overture is of marginally superior quality but there is nothing here for the audiophile and I suspect that only Kempe devotees and completists will want this ICA disc. Unfortunately, the hiss is even more pronounced on headphones.

The performances themselves, made in front of a generally very quiet studio audience and at the Royal Festival Hall, are typical of Kempe's direct, unfussy interpretative approach: the Mahler symphony is the briskest I know but the conductor understands how sustained momentum in Mahler cannot be bought at the expense of lilt and charm and he remains mindful of Mahler's instruction, "Nicht eilen". This is Mahler which remains humorous; it sings, swings and chuckles in the Scherzo-like second movement, yet the Adagio is wonderfully serene. The phrasing in the upper strings is celestial and their intonation is excellent. Indeed, the BBC Symphony Orchestra plays exceptionally well, especially considering that in this era Mahler symphonies were hardly yet part of their regular repertoire. Less satisfactory is the Finale, which sounds as rushed as the timing suggests; soprano Jane Alexander is an adequate but unmemorable soloist.

The fillers are beautifully played: Kempe had a great affinity with Wagner's music, but the hiss and shallowness of the recorded sound do his interpretation no favours. He gives an energised account of "Ruy Blas".

For all its incidental virtues, I cannot say that these performances are indispensable, even though they are new to the Kempe discography and the sound represents an additional disincentive.

[This review also posted on the MusicWeb International site.]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars *** 1/2 Some new things for the Kmepe discography, but the readings and recorded sound aren't exceptional 16 Dec 2013
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
In London Kempe was identified with the Royal Phil., the opera at Covent Garden, and briefly with the BBC Sym., a tenure tragically abbreviated by his sudden death in 1976. British music lovers have long memories, and Kempe's name is still golden in London. ICA, taking up the torch from BBC Legends, has culled a batch of broadcast performances spanning adecade, beginning in the mono era.

Mahler:
Symphony No. 4 in G major
Maida Vale Studios, 14 May 1957
Joan Alexander (soprano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra

Mendelssohn:
Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95
Royal Festival Hall, London, 12 February 1967
London Symphony Orchestra

Wagner:
Parsifal: Prelude to Act 1
Maida Vale Studios, 26 May 1965
BBC Symphony Orchestra

The notes inform us that the Mahler Fourth was done as a stand-in for an ill Bruno Walter, and it's a new addition to Kempe's discography. The tape was discovered in an archive in York, and given the scant number of Mahler recordings available from Kempe, I was eager to hear it. The sound is clear monaural with a respectable dynamic range and good balances; there is tape hiss, but it's not intrusive. Of the Mahler Fourths I know, this one begins briskly, although it doesn't go to the extreme that Benjamin Britten does, and there's a certain cool efficiency reminiscent of Szell. I didn't expect Kempe to be this "objective," as literalists are often called. Somewhat distant miking adds to the effect. Even so, the conducting is assured and purposeful.

In the second movement, the mistuned "devil's fiddle" gets lost in the overall texture much of the time, thanks to the same distant miking. the pacing is again rather quick and the interpretation on the objective side. Kempe is aiming for directness rather than a lovingly detailed reading of the kind Bernstein delivered. The rhythmic lilt he achieves is very appealing, however. The characteristics I've mentioned continue through the slow movement, where Kempe interprets Poco Adagio as almost an andante. There's no lingering, and yet the directness of the reading works on its own terms. I do think that Kempe hovers around mezzo forte a bit too much in a movement where the score asks for quieter, even hushed dynamics.

In the finale the soprano soloist, Joan Alexander, is unknown to me, but she sounds clear and idiomatic, even if she makes no effort to sound like a child or to exhibit wonder. By this point I had lost interest in Kempe's straight-ahead reading, which is as charmless as Szell's and much less well played - if you want objectivity, Szell is the better choice.

There are connoisseurs of Kempe's Wagner, and they will be pleased with this live reading of the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal, captured in rather patchy sound that makes the violins sound gritty and somewhat wiry. It's intense and nicely idiomatic, to look on the positive side, and the pacing is much quicker than, say, Knappertsbusch's usual. We end with a vigorous Ruy Blas Over. that is quite spirited. It's also new to Kempe's discography. My copy is a download without liner notes, but unless my ears deceive me, the two fillers are in mono, like the Mahler.

All told, despite the value of getting new additions to the Kempe record, I wouldn't rush out to obtain these performances without being one of the conductor's fans.
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