Rudolf Kempe

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell

Though he gained some popularity within England and Germany, conductor Rudolf Kempe's career never catapulted him to the same level of recognition or fame as many of his contemporaries. He produced an abundance of recordings, most notably with the Dresden Staatskapelle. Made in 1948 -- just a year before he took up leadership in Dresden -- this Archipel disc finds Kempe at the helm of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig conducting Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Regrettably, for listeners other than enthusiastic Kempe devotees, this album is not a reliable choice. From a technical standpoint, the orchestra is not at its best. There's a fair amount of surprisingly sloppy playing, with articulations and entrances being imprecise. Balance and sound quality, even for a 1948 recording, are spotty at best; as the volume rises, the intelligibility of individual parts drops drastically. Even more problematic for the average listener, though, are Kempe's peculiar tempo choices. The first movement, even though it is a dirge, is ponderously slow and deliberate. Even the more vigorous second movement is startlingly cumbersome and lacking in momentum. Not until the third-movement Scherzo does Kempe finally pick up the pace, but by that point it's far too little, far too late. The slower pace returns for the finale, bringing the symphony to a crawling, shoddy conclusion.

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