Musick for his Majesty’s Sackbutts & Cornetts
Symphony No.1 in B flat, Op.38 (Spring)
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the Royal Festival Hall, London – 30 November 1965 (Schumann) & 15 February 1966
Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne
Reviewed: March 2008
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 79 minutes
István Kertész, a contemporary of conductors such as Bernard Haitink, André Previn, Lorin Maazel and Sir Colin Davis, would now have been approaching 80. Unfortunately his tragic death from drowning in 1973 robbed us of a promising conductor who had begun to make his mark, particularly through numerous Decca recordings. It was in the more ‘pastoral’ works that Kertész seemed to shine; so it is good to welcome this release of live performances of two such symphonies. The Schumann is particularly welcome as an addition to Kertész’s discography.
Kertész had recorded the Brahms for Decca with the Vienna Philharmonic two years earlier and this performance with the London Symphony Orchestra (he had assumed the post of Principal Conductor in succession to Monteux) is very similar. The first movement is trenchantly carved-out if without the skill of, say, Karl Böhm’s also-live version with this orchestra on BBC Legends. The older maestro knew his way through the symphony, corners being more skilfully turned. Kertész however has the edge in the slow movement, which is really quite beautiful. The Allegretto grazioso benefits from the LSO’s woodwinds rather more than Kertész’s Decca recording does from the Vienna PO; and the finale – punchy and energised with tempo-changes deftly negotiated – builds up a genuine sense of excitement. (A shame about the premature clappers amongst the audience.)
Aside from recording the Piano Concerto with Julius Katchen, Kertész left us no recorded Schumann. Based on this Royal Festival Hall performance, that is a shame. Like Josef Krips (also LSO on Decca) Kertész takes a lighter view of the ‘Spring’ Symphony. No massive opening for him – the opening fanfares are integrated to the rest of the movement. Once more, the slow movement is a highlight, deliciously assembled, and the scherzo and finale are played with plenty of zest. A lovely performance and also a very welcome addition to Kertész’s discography.
The disc begins with a curiosity by the 17th-century English composer Matthew Locke, a contrasting noble and lively piece in the manner of Giovanni Gabrieli’s brass pieces. Hopefully BBC Legends will scour archives for further Kertész, for both this and a previous issue of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with Wolfgang Schneiderhan) are well worth acquiring.