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.
What an illustrative difference between the Kertész and the Haitink versions! Kertész seems to build up the musical cathedral that a Bruckner symphony may be likened to, carefully erecting its monumentality to celestial heights. While Haitink appears to describe the magnificent cathedral systematically, with a profound feeling for all its parts from the bottom up to the towers. If Haitink gives a more static, universal, aesthetically perfect, and truly Brucknerish impression, Kertész is constructive energy and passionate feeling.
Both versions are invaluable. So together with the Vaughan Williams Fantasia, this is a more than highly recommendable BBC Legends disc!