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RUDOLF KEMPE CONDUCTS MAHLER, MENDELSSOHN & WAGNER - RUDOLF KEMPE; JOAN ALEXANDER; BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA; LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

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Rudolf Kempe conducts Mahler, Wagner & Mendelssohn

Mahler: Symphony No. 4
Mendelssohn: Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95
Wagner: Parsifal
Wagner: Parsifal: Prelude to Act 1

Joan Alexander (soprano)

London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe

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.


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