Monday, June 02, 2008

Waiting for Kempe

Let's see if lightning can, indeed, strike the same place twice.

Testament promises, though I haven't seen any indication that it's on the U.S. market yet, a 1957 Ring from Covent Garden with Rudolf Kempe leading the band (SBT13-1426). I am surprised that Medici didn't take this opportunity to have a flagship recording on their ROH Heritage series (which has a very interesting Solti Don Giovanni from 1962), but it looks like Testament has the set.

After the 1955 Keilberth Ring from Bayreuth and the 1950 premiere of Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder (which has a nice - and impressive, given Flagstad's age - Götterdämmerung finale on the disc), I am becoming convinced that Testament is one of the smartest labels out there. They seem to know what will be popular, and they seem to have good licensing agents. Scoring the Keilberth tapes from Decca, in particular, given the reissuing impulse of Universal at the moment, was a major coup.

The Kempe Ring, though, seems a bit more complicated. The conductor has had some fine Wagner records on the market under his name (Lohengrin and Meistersinger, both EMI), but he seems to be more or less obscure. Like Klaus Tennstedt, his relatively early death might have something to do with his second-tier status. The cast seems pretty solid and solidly Golden Age (Nilsson, Hotter, Windgassen, Vinay, Uhde, and Böhme all apparently appear). That, then, is my one reservation about the set.

Will this be something other than the Keilberth cycle? That is to say: Didn't we hear this one with the Keilberth/Bayreuth set? I understand Varnay sang Brünnhilde, but we got Nilsson with Böhm in - what? - 1967. I can understand the need for the Knappertsbusch Ring from 1956, since he and Keilberth had two different approaches to Wagner's score. I guess the question is this: Is Rudolf Kempe's approach to the Ring so fundamentally different that it overcomes the substantial duplication of most of the key roles?

I suppose, too, if you really want to hear Birgit Nilsson's Brünnhilde in 1957, you can get the EMI (and Testament) set with the finale from Walküre - with Hotter in excellent voice. The latest EMI release - which might be the same as the mastering on the now-legendary Les Introuvables du Ring set.

Now, for all my dithering, I'll probably buy the Kempe Ring when it becomes widely available (unless Testament wants to send me a review copy, which would be very nice, but highly improbable). Still, I think - in a reissue market that's becoming crowded - that consumers should use some rational thinking when it comes to releases like this.

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