TCHAIKOVSKY:  Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.  DEBUSSY:  First Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra. (Gervase de Peyer, clarinet, London SO/Rudolf Kempe, cond. rec. Sept. 16, 1964).  JANÁCEK:  Sinfonietta (BBC SO/Rudolf Kempe, cond. rec. Aug. 30, 1974).
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4087 (F) (ADD) TT:  76:41

WAGNER: Rienzi Overture (rec. June 18, 1968). Excerpts from Die Meistersinger (rec. Sept. 23, 1967) and G–tterd”mmerung (rec. June 15, 1967)  Berit Lindholm, soprano; London Symphony Orch. & Chorus; New Philharmonia Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4088 (F) (ADD) TT:  73:25

These CDs offer treasureable live performances representing both distinguished conductors at their finest.  Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976) is known for his fine series of recordings made in the '60's with the Royal Philharmonic for the Reader's Digest, some of which are currently available on Chesky including Respighi's Fountains and Pines of Rome (CD18) and Strauss' Don Juan (CD88).  He also recorded Strauss' complete orchestral music in Dresden for EMI available until recently at budget price, now represented by a premium-priced issue of Alpine Symphony and Zarathustra on DVD Audio.  A twin-CD set in EMI's Artist Profile series (68736) offered a wide variety of repertory including two Strauss recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic (Don Quixote and Till Eulenspiegel).  If you see this in a cutout bin, grab it.  There are several other Kempe live performances in the BBC series, all rewarding except the set of Mahler's first two symphonies (see REVIEW).

This BBC Legends issue offers performances from concerts in Royal Albert Hall.  Tchaikovsky's Symphony and the Debussy Rapsodie date from Sept. 16, 1964, the Sinfonietta, Aug. 30, 1974. The London Symphony's performance of the Tchaikovsky from a concert in Vienna the year before with Pierre Monteux on the podium has been issued on Vanguard (OVD 8031/2) and remains among the finest ever recorded.  This Kempe performance is in the same league, immaculately played, with Barry Tuckwell superb in his second-movement solo.  Kempe recorded the Tchaikovsky for EMI in 1959 with the Berlin Philharmonic, now available on Testament (1100).  Gervase de Peyer's playing of the Debussy is meltingly beautiful, but Janácek's Sinfonietta is the real prize on this CD.  Notes mention that this performance was "one of those special occasions" when "something that cannot be explained" could be sensed happening, also stating that thirteen brass players trooping on stage "make an imposing sight."  Kempe has a particular affinity for Janácek's music (he recorded the Glagolitic Mass in May 1973 now available on Decca Legends CD 470263).  He builds the final fanfares to a stunning climax.  Royal Albert Hall's rich acoustics have been vividly captured by BBC's engineers.  It must have been quite stupendous in the hall.

Stokowski's Wagner is well known from his many recordings; there's nothing on this CD he hadn't recorded before; his first recording of the G–tterd”mmerung music was made in 1933, the Meistersinger excerpts about the same time.  In 1967 Stokowski had the superb young Swedish soprano Berit Lindholm, then at the beginning of her short-lived career.  The Times reported she sang "splendidly, and in characteristically clear and firm Nordic tones," and they were on the mark.  The Maestro was so pleased he invited her to sing the same music two years later in Carnegie Hall with the American SO.  Rienzi Overture was another Stoki favorite; he recorded it twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1919 and 1927), with the NYPSO in 1947, and his only stereo recording was made in 1973 for RCA with the Royal Philharmonic, released in the now unavailable Stokowski Stereo Collection.  This live recording is quite superior with an intensity lacking in the studio versions.  As usual, the BBC engineering is natural, well-balanced and of wide dynamic range.  Now, let's have that Stoki BBC Mahler Resurrection!

R.E.B. (March 2002)