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PROM 64: Mozart & Bruckner, Dresden Staatskapelle, Bernard Haitink, Royal Albert Hall, 3rd September 2004 (MB)



The Dresden Staatskapelle’s uniquely warm timbre, and its supreme virtuosity, always makes this an orchestra worth catching live. However, this is an orchestra that is also prone to rather bland playing under the wrong conductor (Sinopoli, who had such a symbiotic and distinguished partnership with the Dresdeners, never played with them in London, but we have all too often heard them under lesser conductors); at times one is all too aware of hearing an orchestra that sounds as if it is on auto-pilot.


Bernard Haitink’s Prom with them, in his final year as the orchestra’s interim music director following Sinopoli’s death, was prone to show the orchestra on both auto-pilot and inspired form. Mozart’s Jupiter, for example, with Haitink slimming the orchestra down (just four double basses here), was highly polished in terms of the playing but rather anodyne in terms of interpretation. The stately opening of the symphony suits this orchestra’s demeanour well but the movement’s jauntiness does not, its characteristically repeated notes sounding merely gestural in the orchestra’s corporate hands. Perhaps for this very reason it was the haunting beauty of the second movement which most captured the eloquence of the orchestra’s strings and their carefully coloured woodwind phrasing. A heavy-handed Menuetto and Trio pre-empted a fugally played final movement where the contrapuntalism of Mozart’s scoring was never anything less than superbly realised.


Bruckner’s vast Seventh Symphony, with its lopsided landscape that places two gigantically granitic opening movements besides two shorter ones, was in a quite different league. This is a very protean work and it requires an orchestra with the ability to transform itself from the extremes of chamber-like clarity one minute to inseparable fugal inversion the next to bring it off: how beautifully the opening ‘cello lines sounded, so singular in their phrasing, for example, and yet how majestic and solid the movement’s closing paragraphs were, inexorable yet done with absolute clarity of timbre.


Perhaps the opening movement did not have quite the depth of sonority one ideally wanted – and at times Haitink seemed to be having problems getting the balance right between the violins and the brass – but it was the protean nature of the symphony which was being drawn to our attention in this performance. The Dresdner’s came into their own in the Adagio with their unique sense of orchestral colour: a quartet of magnificent Wagner tubas had a supremely dark-toned quality (quite apart from the fact that the playing was constantly pitch perfect) and how magically the sound bridged the gap between the horns and trombones as it should (and so often doesn’t.) Haitink eschewed the pastoral lyricism that can sometimes disfigure this movement opting instead for a much darker soundscape that led conclusively to the implacable climax (with the spurious cymbal) that crowns the movement.


That implacableness was evident in the Scherzo also. Raw, monothematic and cumulative it seemed almost pagan in its progression. And in a stroke of reverence to Bruckner’s scoring Haitink and his players made the Trio sound like an oasis of loneliness beside the pendants of the movement’s turbulence. The Finale – more powerfully realised than usual – took on the form of a vast chorale, the return of the Wagner tubas now declaiming a warm expressiveness of colour to match the glowing radiance of the strings. With Haitink closing this performance with just the briefest of ritardandos its protean progression came full circle. All in all, a magnificent achievement.


Marc Bridle



Further listening:



Bruckner, Symphony No.7, Berliner Philharmoniker, Sergiu Celibidache (only available on private labels and a simply breathtaking performance.)


Otherwise, I’d recommend:


Bruckner, Symphony No. 7, Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, Takashi Asahina (recorded live at St Florian Marmor Hallin 1975) on Victor VDC-1214, Tokyo, Japan.

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