Tippett Concerto for Double String Orchestra; Berg Violin Concerto
Did his mastery of mainstream European orchestral music leave Rudolf Kempe at a loss when confronted with Tippett’s Utopian synthesis of Tudor polyphony and English folksong in the Concerto for Double String Orchestra? Not a bit of it. There may be a bustling, Hindemithian weight to the first movement’s busy textures, an unexpected but not inapposite touch of Straussian opulence in the slow movement, and a lack of truly sprung rhythm in the finale. But this reading never sells Tippett short, and even in a rather airless recording, the symphonic ambitions that underpin the music’s pastoral and pictorial elements are very well realised.
The sound quality in the Berg Concerto is similarly constrained, yet the strengths of the performance cannot be denied. By some standards Edith Peinemann may appear self-effacing, but her technique is secure, her commitment to the piece absolute: in music which has ample flamboyance built in she is never timid or tentative. Kempe ensures that the first movement flows effortlessly around its evocations of the dance, and even if you prefer the later stages of the second movement to move on a bit more than they do here, Kempe’s flair for balancing the music’s intricate moods and even more intricate strands of texture is admirable. With a lively and eloquent account of Janácek’s Sinfonietta thrown in, clear as a bell despite the limitations of the recording, this is a refreshing disc: a reminder of the all-round virtues of the BBC SO in its post-Boulez phase, and of Kempe’s special ability to bring not just care but a degree of charisma to performances of 20th-century classics.