Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [1878-1880 Version, edited Robert Haas]
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in Royal Festival Hall, London – Bruckner on 13 March 1964; Vaughan Williams on 15 February 1966
Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne
Reviewed: November 2009
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 78 minutes
In 1966 Decca issued an LP (SXL 6227) of István Kertész conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner’s ‘Romantic’ Symphony, which is now available on Testament (SBT 1298). In 1996 BBC Radio Classics released a live performance of this work from these artists which here comes re-issued on BBC Legends sporting a first-class transfer by Tony Faulkner and also with a first-release fill-up.
There is little to choose in timings and approach between the two versions (not surprising if Decca’s sessions were adjacent to the London concert). Both recordings are bright and forward with impressive dynamics (the concert-performance has been excellently re-mastered); indeed the sudden arrival of heavy brass can take you aback in its weight and power. You would not go to Kertész for a religious experience in the manner of Eugen Jochum or Furtwängler or to envisage alpine landscapes – best to go to Karajan or Sawallisch for that. What Kertész does is strip away the traditional conceptions of Bruckner for a clean-limbed reading, jaunty in places, that looks back to Schubert. There is impressive woodwind-playing and the impression that he has gone out of his way to give a reading of freshness and individuality.
Which to choose may well hang on whether you prefer live performances to studio recordings. The concert version has an audience that is commendably quiet. The fill-up may also be a factor. There is something in the Tallis Fantasia that has a Brucknerian majesty about it. Whether that is achieved here I am not so sure given that the Royal Festival Hall’s immediate and dry acoustic does not lend itself to the cathedral-like atmosphere of the music, but this is a performance of sensitivity and weight and may just tip the scales.