Mozart Symphonies/István Kertész

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.25 in G minor, K183
Symphony No.29 in A, K201
Symphony No.33 in B flat, K319
Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Serenade in G, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
La clemenza di Tito – Overture
Le nozze de Figaro – Overture
Die Zauberflöte – Overture
Così fan tutte – Overture
Idomeneo – Overture
March in C, K408

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna State Opera Orchestra [Clemenza]
Vienna Haydn Orchestra [Remainder of overtures]
István Kertész

Recorded in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, between 1963 and 1972

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2006
476 7401 [Symphonies 25, 29 & 35]
476 7402 [33, 39 & 40]
476 7403 [36, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, March, Overtures]
Duration: 63 minutes
71 minutes
70 minutes

These separately available releases are something of a tonic. As orchestras for Classical repertoire tend to get smaller, the use of vibrato less, and the speeds quicker, these 1960s and early-1970s recordings report a way of playing Mozart that is now less likely to be encountered. These are fulsome and time-taken accounts, played by an orchestra seasoned in the repertoire under a then young conductor who tragically didn’t live long enough to justify his promise. (Kertész was born in Budapest in 1929 and died in a swimming accident in 1973.)

Auditioning these performances on these Eloquence CDs, away from the hallowed SXL LPs, and as transferred here, it is a little disappointing that the sound is aggressive and rather bass-light. Symphony No.25 is not the most encouraging start, although other examples here are far more agreeable. Without access to those LPs, one wonders if the upper strings were quite as bright as this and, indeed, whether the playback levels were as high as on these CDs. Again, though, volume is variable.

That said, the first movement of No. 25 is impressively intense and measured, emotionally loaded, trenchant rather than fleet (the Sofiensaal’s reverberation not always being allowed its full length before the editor’s scissors cut to silence). Some of the strings’ frequencies sound a little diluted as presented here (maybe the current transfer) although there’s no doubting the rich expression conjured by Kertész. Symphony No.29 has a grace and a swing that squares very nicely with this most comely of symphonies, the winsome Andante being especially affecting, the Minuet entertaining a background hum. Rather smoother in balance and general presentation is the ‘Haffner’, given a concise and jubilant performance (horns to the fore), the upper strings encouraged to sing out and the oboes to penetrate through.

No.33 is poised and lucid, a really fine account, completed with a puckish finale, and the No.39 that follows begins with a slow introduction that, in relation to ‘historical awareness’, seems rather laboured, although its very familiarity, as of the symphony as a whole, makes for warm and expressive listening. Symphony No.40, occasionally slack in terms of ensemble, might be thought short of tension. Throughout, Kertész is not particularly generous with observing repeats.

On the third CD, the ‘Linz’ Symphony opens in stentorian fashion, and then has a vitality that is infectious, this disc including an articulate Eine kleine Nachtmusik, a majestic March, and a selection of overtures. The four with the Vienna Haydn Orchestra come from a collection, “Mozart Opera Festival”, recorded in 1971, which is ‘completed’ on 476 7437 (71 minutes) and which includes Kertész conducting various numbers (19 in all) from Mozart operas, the singers being Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Werner Krenn, Tom Krause and Manfred Jungwirth. With the orchestra a little remote and a louder-than-usual transfer, this release is not an unqualified success, but the presence of these singers will make it attractive.

It’s been good to return to Kertész’s Mozart. If the sound is not as always as ‘magical’ as anticipated – and maybe slightly too processed by today’s technology (and not all edits are well enough disguised), then there’s a particular ‘understanding’ of this music that is engaging and which is generally well preserved by these ‘budget’ releases.

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