RAVEL: Bolero; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 7 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131 – Arthur Grumiaux, violin/ Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Rudolf Kempe – Archipel ARPCD 0530, 72:24 [Distr. By Qualiton] *****:
This restoration, one of Archipel’s “Desert Island Collection,” captures fine moments of conductor Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976) in Munich, 9-11 November 1960, when he and Rafael Kubelik (and occasionally Eugen Jochum and Sergiu Celibidache) shared the podium of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Often praised for sensitive control of symphony orchestras, Kempe brought color and dynamism to the scores he championed, and his talents led to his succeeding Sir Thomas Beecham at the Royal Philharmonic, 1960-1975.
The elegiac Seventh Symphony of Prokofiev (1952) had as its first champion Nikolai Malko, whose EMI (on RCA LM 2092) recording revealed its essentially conservative and nostalgic cast. Kempe, a natural “romantic literalist,” does not force the emotional issues in the first movement, but rather allows its drooping melancholy to evolve in sonata-form without dire contrasts of emotion. The lyrical waltz of the Allegretto movement projects both a folksy air and the spirit of a late ballet from Prokofiev, like Cinderella. If glockenspiel and xylophone predominate in the opening Moderato, the triangle’s infusion into the horn makes the Allegretto shimmer. The orchestration of the lyrical Andante espressivo quite captivates, again much in the spirit of ballet or children’s pageant. The Vivace opens with a touch of Prokofiev’s former sarcastic energy, but he relents quickly to a more docile form of Russian dance, much in the spirit of his First Symphony. The cello theme of the affecting third movement returns, and so do the percussive sounds from the opening Moderato, a gentle cycle from a spirit who had in several respects been enervated by continued bouts with Soviet politics. The Kempe rendition has breezed through this music with facile, sympathetic enthusiasm, gracious but tinged with a nervous excitement quite palpable to the Munch audience.
Ravel’s “infamous” Bolero (1928), inspired by a commission from dancer Ida Rubinstein, provides fifteen minutes of “orchestral tissue without music,” conceived as a graduated crescendo on a repeated motif. Kempe (9 November 1960) elicits piquant response from his talented players, particularly in the woodwinds (E-flat clarinet, oboe, and English horn) and snare drum. By the time the full strings enter, the colossal rhythmic momentum carries the eighteen-bar theme like an erotic pendulum, Kempe’s having established a brisk tempo closer to Toscanini’s model than to the moderate pace preferred by the composer.
The Mozart A Major Concerto features the eternally elegant playing of Belgian virtuoso Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986), whose plastic but impeccable intonation set a standard for erotic elegance in music-making. Grumiaux and Kempe find absolute synchronicity of ensemble, and the first movement enjoys a masculine, virile intelligence that separates the aristocratic performance from anything pedestrian. The cadenza moves with such lithe grace and natural phrasing that we must nod to that art that conceals art. Kempe sets rather an andantino pace for the second movement Adagio, but the stateliness of the conception so fits the rarified “rococo” of the woven phrases and fluttering trills that it suffices merely to savor their seamless execution. The last movement perfectly synthesizes the galant and rococo elements in Mozart, culminating in that extended janissary episode that never ceases to delight in its militantly playful figures. The lush orchestral part does not pretend to “original instruments” aesthetics but rather luxuriates in the feral sonorities of the full complement of players. By the last note, you’ve heard some of the best Mozart in your record library.
A veritable wealth of Prokofiev, in the hands of Kutik