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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791):
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K.183 [22:33]
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201 [22:09]
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 ‘Haffner’ [17:54]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/István Kertész
Rec. Sofiensaal, Vienna, November 1972 ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 7401 [62:54]
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The loss of a musician like Kertész is something felt even today, over thirty years after his untimely death at the age of 43. These recordings, made a year or so beforehand as part of a Mozart cycle, demonstrate just what a fine musician he was. They also show up today’s genuine shortage of conducting talent on this level.

True, Kertész is greatly assisted by an unparalleled orchestra (for me at least the VPO is preferable to the harder-edged Berliners in Mozart), the fabulous acoustic of the Sofiensaal and the Decca engineering team of Christopher Raeburn and James Lock. In the early 1970s this production team probably knew the orchestra and hall better than anyone as far as recordings are concerned. There is no doubt that all deserve credit for their part in the results.

But listen to what Kertész delivers. Finely paced readings – many do that – but with a clear sense of the inner relationship of the parts, textures and therefore the drama that results. All of this is delivered in a manner that seems unpushed beyond what is needed by or natural to the music. It’s almost as if the conductor is not there, that the music plays itself. Well, Kertész is there, just not his ego. This, according to a friend of mine who knew Kertész in Hungary, was typical of the man and his approach to conducting.

Given that the Vienna Philharmonic have Mozart in their very being, the approach pays off. Tempi at first seem nothing beyond the ordinary, but combine them with the natural weight of the orchestra and the balance of the works is clearly established. This assists voicing, articulation and emphasis to deploy all with great style.

Strings are immediate, nicely so in the lower registers, illustrating the keen sense Kertész had of building orchestral sound. Winds have great character and presence. The brass placed in context to the whole, with bite, yet never drowning out the rest.

So, amazingly, I have reviewed the performance of three symphonies without mentioning a single one specifically. However I believe that in listening to this recording, you will be able to identify the characteristics in each as they progress. I was particularly glad to reacquaint myself with the Haffner, a favourite performance that I had on tape around twenty years ago, that was played to self-destruction. But the discovery was the immensely distinguished account of Symphony 29. A finer account I do not think I have ever heard.

Quite a bargain too at the prices charged through the buywell website, so why not pick up a few other Kertész volumes while you’re at it. You can hardly go far wrong.

Evan Dickerson

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