Rudolf Kempe's Gustav Mahler interpretations are not well represented on record. On record, he is, however, a famous interpreter of Richard Strauss. This live recording from 1975 - less than a year before Kempe's death - shows his equally masterly grasp of Mahler's most complex score, which he lets speak for itself. Thus there are interesting orchestral details on this recording, seldom heard on other accounts. Only in that respect, this is a remarkable recording.
But the most interesting feature with this disc is the soloists represented. Ludovic Spiess is excellent for the tenor part, even if the recording apparently puts him a bit too far from the microphone. But this is a minor problem - the sound is more than adequate, and Spiess is no second-rate option for the work. Indeed, I found his performance as gripping as, say, Patzak for Walter. Further, this is yet another recording with Janet Baker for the mezzo/alto-part. There exist three other recordings with her in Das Lied, which means that we now have four Baker versions:
1. Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Kmentt & Baker, 1970 live (Audite).
2. Kempe, BBC Symphony, Spiess & Baker, 1975 live (BBC legends)
2. Haitink, Concertgebouw, King & Baker, 1976 studio (Philips).
4. Leppard, BBC Northern Symphony, Mitchinson & Baker, 1977 live (BBC - nla).
Of these recordings, I hold Kubelik's to be the finest, even for the Baker performance. Haitink's interpretation is overall less convincing, and King - well, he is, in my view, too much a Heldentenor for this work. Leppard has Mitchinson who performs far better for Horenstein (BBC legends), a less preferrable BBC orchestra, and the recording is not in the best possible sound. But the Kempe recording comes close to the Kubelik standard - I would not like to be without the conductor's idiomatic and close reading, nor would I like to live in a world without Spiess' very moving performance, perfectly matched by Baker's precise tone. So it is difficult to say which one to recommend. Collectors need both, for reference. The Kubelik recording has better sound, and an excellent Kmentt in top form for the tenor part. Nonetheless, the BBC recording is very fine as well, even if Spiess sounds a bit recessed due to a small technical mistake.
In sum: if you love this work you need this record.