BBC Legends has done wonders reviving the posthumous reputation of Klaus Tennstedt and reinforcing the greatness of Giulini in concert. They have reminded us that Barbirolli, despite being at the head of a provincial British orchestra, had real greatness in him more often than not. Can the same be said of Rudolf Kempe, who had a strong presence in London with the Royal Phil. and BBC Sym.? Kempe's devotees are a strong corps, but I have my doubts. Here we have parts of two Proms concerts from August, 1975, the year before Kempe died unexpectedly at age 65. To me, they sound like straightforward music-making of the kind one expects at good subscription concerts. the sound is moderately good broadcast stereo; everything is quite listenable.
first up is Beethoven's Leonore Overture no. 3, a stalwart that also happens to be a masterpiece of the composer's middle period. The BBC Sym. plays without much relish, frankly, and Kempe's interpretation is solid but nothing more. The pace picks up with a suite from Prokofiev's zany satirical opera, "The Love of Three Oranges," where Kempe draws real color from the playing. A Russian specialist like Yuri Temirkanov finds more edge and spice in the score, but Kempe doesn't hold back, and his musicians are twice as lively as they were in the Beethoven, which sounds like a run-through.
The main symphonic work is the Dvorak "New World," which Kempe also recorded for EMI. Kempe's reading is robust and assured, but nothing especially eventful happens, and the BBC Sym. plays like any medium-good professional orchestra. I apologize if I sound glint-eyed, but in the end Kempe has never struck me as an outstanding orchestral conductor outside Richard Strauss - his real home was the opera pit.