István Kertesz, the Hungarian conductor, would no doubt have been ranked amid conductors like Toscanini and Furtwängler and Karajan, if not a tragic drowning accident had stopped his career at the age of 44 in 1973. However, all that he had done up to then was undoubtedly enough to give him an eternal place in the Pantheon of Great Conductors. This BBC Legends record is indication enough. The most sensational with it is, I think, Kertész' version of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, originating from February 1964. This shows up to be a vigorous and forcible interpretation, vital, powerful and almost fiery to a degree that is rare, compared to the lovable but a bit pale and lethargic British "Greensleeves" tradition to render this masterpiece, indubitably one of the peaks in 20th Century music. It is captivating, stunningly exciting in fact, with much inspirated orchestral playing from London Symphony. Almost as sensational is Kertész' version of Bruckner's fourth symphony in the 1878-1880 Edition. Sensational because there is already a grandiose recording in the Testament series, originating from 1966. But this one, lifted up from the magical cellars of BBC, is earlier and was made in March 1964 and that is more than a year before Bernard Haitink made his by now legendary recording with Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, also in the 1878-80 Edition! This Kertész' interpretation preceded the Haitink one, and it appears to be an utterly fresh version, with a continuous intensification from the majestic first movement and the serenely dignified slow movement to a heightened scherzo and up to the glorious culmination of the Finale, with an LSO in its greatest form.Read more ›
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The London Sym. snapped up the young Kertesz as their music director in 1965, but the honeymoon was short lived. Apparently the highly gifted conductor became difficult personally, turning into a curt, demanding, immature personality. He and the orchestra parted company in 1968; five years later Kertesz drowned in the sea off Tel Aviv, lost to the musical world at age 43. There are few pirate recordings from him, so this 1964 Bruckner Fourth is welcome. It duplicates a Decca studio recording released the next year, and Kertesz recorded no other Bruckner symphonies.
The Gramophone raved over this live version, which comes in good FM-stereo sound from the BBC, which is no match for the superior Decca version. In truth if you already own the studio one, now reissued by Testament, there's no need to bother. Timings are essentially the same, including the swift 16 min. first movement, and the style in both readings is lyrical and light, reminiscent of Schubert. I like Kertesz's approach very much, and the LSO plays quite well. If you are looking for a reason to prefer this CD, however, the filler is generous: Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, one of the two greatest works for strings in English music, along with Elgar's Introduction and Allegro. Kertesz's reading, from a 1966 concert, is full and lustrously played but miked a bit too far to give maximum impact. I wouldn't select it as one of my top choices in this work; it certainly lacks the passion of Barbirolli's famous account on EMI.