Between January and December 1951 Dutch conductor Paul van Kempen recorded a series of major Tchaikovsky works with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The performances are at once fiery and incandescent – a kind of meaningful sound and fury – and have long been out of the catalogue. But even when they were issued they divided critical opinion, some seeing the recordings as revelatory, others as hysterical. Van Kempen’s Tchaikovsky recordings are clearly those of a man who was not only a spiritual descendent of the Great Romantic conductors of the past, but was also a fiery, audacious and temperamental musician with a number of deeply personal things to say. Born in 1893, Van Kempen joined the first-violin section of the Concertgebouw when he was 17. In 1934 , he was appointed conductor of the ailing Dresden Philharmonic, whose fortunes he guided during the next eight years. During his tenure, Van Kempen transformed the orchestra into one of the best in Germany, earning special praise for his precise yet sweeping interpretations of the major choral and orchestral scores of German Romanticism. His recordings of the fifth and sixth symphonies of Tchaikovsky have long been prized among collectors. Here then are all of Van Kempen’s Tchaikovsky performances with the Concertgebouw collected on a 2CD set. As James Svejda points out in his illuminating notes, ‘Compared to the often bland and faceless time-beating that passes for Tchaikovsky ‘interpretations’ today, the Van Kempen recordings are a souvenir of a long-vanished era when conductors were men, not anonymous ciphers, a time when the composer and his major interpreters could all be unabashed, unashamed Romantics.’ Clearly, this isn’t Tchaikovsky for the faint-hearted!
Recordings: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, January 1951 (1812 Overture), May 1951 (Symphony No. 6, Marche slave), July 1951 (Romeo and Juliet), December 1951 (Symphony No. 5, Capriccio italien)