By the summer of 1962 Rudolf Kempe was at a first peak of his international career. His long-term Wagnerian experience in eastern Germany had finally seen him invited to Bayreuth and had just been appointed music director of a major London orchestra, the late Sir Thomas Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic. And he was able to continue an occasional guest relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Kempe’s regular work with (West) Berlin’s leading ensemble had begun in 1955. Following the death of Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1954, and clear hints that his successor, Herbert von Karajan, wanted to make his Berlin Philharmonic recordings with Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, EMI’s Fritz Ganss realized that his company was in danger of lacking an experienced maestro to record the ‘central’ repertoire with the orchestra.
Kempe had already enjoyed success at the Salzburg Festival with a revival of Pfitzner’s Palestrina. His Berlin Philharmonic concert there in the summer of 1962 was, as regards scale and repertoire, comparatively light relief in the middle of the Bayreuth season. For these reasons Haydn’s Symphony No.55 (1774) was a suitable start to the concert.
Nikita Magaloff was an intriguing, unconventional choice for Beethoven’s G major concerto. ‘A truly extraordinary musician is born’ was Ravel’s comment at his graduation. The Russian-born pianist (1912–92) was a close friend and associate of Prokofiev, a pupil of Siloti and the inheritor of Dinu Lipatti’s master class at the Geneva Conservatory. A champion of the Prokofiev Concertos and especially of Chopin, Magaloff’s Romantic virtuosity was less commonly heard in the Classical repertoire.
As with Haydn there is relatively little Mozart in Kempe’s discography and not a whole lot more in his regular repertoire. But the ‘late’ Mozart of the Requiem and Die Zauberflöte – scores in which he found many parallels – were clearly significant for this conductor. So the world of Symphony No.39 with its quieter sections hinting at the purity of Sarastro’s ideal realm and its E flat major sonorities sit well with Kempe. Although this is bigger orchestra Mozart than we often hear nowadays, the sonority is slimmer and the performance more rhythmically aware than many contemporary mainstream orchestral performances.
Extracts from the note by Mike Ashman
Beethoven, Ludwig van: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 - Magaloff, Nikita (klaver)
Haydn, Joseph: Symphony No. 55 in E flat major 'Schoolmaster'
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K543