Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 4
(ed. Haas 1881)
István Kertész, cond; London SO
DECCA 480 4848 (61:22)
István Kertész recorded this performance of the Bruckner “Romantic” Symphony in October 1965, early in his tenure with the London Symphony and seven years before he drowned in Mediterranean waters off the coast of Israel. It reaches our ears now as a young man’s reading, tempered with a remarkable sense of relaxation—another way of saying it is swift and
graceful—adjectives not normally associated with Bruckner. Indeed, this is the first Bruckner Fourth I’ve heard that seems to come from the same direct and uncomplicated world as the Schumann “Rhenish.” There are no portentous pauses, transitions are not approached as though something other than the hand of God would destroy them, and the music is not played as though it were—let’s be blunt—peculiar! Here, it is just music.
Kertész was a fluid and natural conductor, best known now for being one of the first to take seriously and record the early Dvo?ák symphonies. In his day, only rather tight, intense versions of these by Witold Rowicki would have been easily available for contrast. The Kertész approach was bucolic and soft. So too, here. And the LSO players are at their sympathetic best. It sounds like remarkably happy playing, with gorgeous horn whoops in the finale. This is the freshest-faced Fourth I know. Kertész uses the 1881 Haas version, without the timpani at the climax of the first movement’s development chorale, my only complaint.
The Kingsway Hall acoustic is beautifully captured in this recording, even to digital ears. Bass tremolos float about under your feet like a magic carpet. Horns are light but golden. The timpanist is incisive and the brass never blare. There is little to remind the listener of the recording’s age, except for the occasional spot mike on the strings or brief moment of trumpet grit. The trick to enjoying analog recordings, I find, is to play them about 7 decibels more quietly than their digital counterparts. Heard this way, spot-mike graininess tends to disappear, and one does not experience the music as though it were recorded on carbon paper, which in fact it was.
With every year, it appears, the towering achievement of Bruckner’s symphonies is further acknowledged in the music world—indeed now accepted without question or caveat. Along with totemic respect, though, comes a monument-building tendency that can be deadly for the music. Perhaps, with more performances like this one, Bruckner will one day be thought graceful and even, well...pretty!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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