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.