> Brahms Serenades 4666722 [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Serenades Opp 11 and 16
London Symphony Orchestra/Istvan Kertesz
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 672-2 [76.18]



The Eloquence series, released under the aegis of Decca or Philips or DG, continues its admirable trawl through the back catalogue. In this case we have a self-recommending disc of the Brahms Serenades, a famous and vital brace of readings with the London Symphony in verdant and engulfing form under a conductor – the tragically short-lived Istvan Kertesz – whose every movement seems calculated to bring out the freshness, occasional gravity and unforced naturalness of these early compositions.

Dating – and not sounding it – from 1968 these warm and memorable traversals are pretty much ideal; the recording is vivid but not over bright and the interpretations still seem unmatched. There is a generosity of spirit to Kertesz’s music making, a warm-heartedness without flabbiness, a lyrical ardour without affectation that is immediately appealing and winning and explains why he was also such a good Dvorak conductor. Sectionally the recording is excellently balanced enabling one to appreciate the LSO in one of its periodic heydays. Listen for example to the rustic horns in the opening of the first Serenade or the deepening mood of the adagio non troppo, whose amplitude is never out of scale with the other movements, never vested with such intensity that it formally unbalances the work. Or listen to the swirling violins in the same Serenade’s Scherzo and the resolute horn passage, robust and alive. All these qualities amply apply to the Second Serenade in which orchestral finesse and virtuosity are subsumed to a higher, more generous function. Violin-less the op 16 Serenade has at its centre an adagio of melting beauty surrounded by bustling and exciting material, delineated with treasurable elegance by Kertesz.

There aren’t that many unambiguously recommendable versions of these two Serenades coupled as here; thirty years on this is still an essential purchase.

Jonathan Woolf



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