MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



 Haydn and Bruckner: Bernard Haitink, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, London, 24.9.2009 (GDn)

: Symphony No.101 in D (Clock)
Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E Major

It’s not news, but Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony are a winning combination. The orchestra’s precision allows every detail of Haitink’s interpretive insights to shine though, and the effortless sophistication of their sound is the ideal medium for his readings of the Classical and Romantic repertoire.

The orchestra’s round, powerful sound is probably not to everybody’s taste when it comes to Haydn. Even with drastically reduced strings this is still an orchestra that trades on intensity and aural impact. Haitink approaches the mannerisms of Haydn’s 18th century Classicism in a way that fits exactly with the orchestra’s American sound. He uses the intensity of the strings as the basis for solidly supported phrases, their structure and relations governed more by the brief but precise pauses he instinctively places between them than by dynamic shading. The adagio opening was taken unusually slowly, even for him, but provided a springboard for the presto to follow. Haitink’s intensive control of the strings in the later movements was often balanced by more freedom for the woodwind solos, but in general this was a performance characterised by a unity of purpose emanating from the conductor. And any possible complaints about strictness or constraint were magnificently countered by the finale, brimming over with passion and energy without ever compromising the detail or precision of the ensemble.

The Bruckner gave the orchestra the chance to really shine, and the quality was apparent from the first bar. The violin tremolo was as unified as if it were played by a single performer, and the cello theme that it accompanies was muscular and intense. These qualities continued through the movement, with each woodwind solo, each line of string counterpoint, each brass chorale imbued with a focussed, purposeful sound. The CSO brass lived up to their legendary status, their tuning, ensemble and timbre never once compromised by the extreme fortissimos that Haitink routinely expects of them.

The adagio was unusually fast, but no worse for it. Wagner tubas played in tune (just about) throughout, which is no mean feat. For those who follow the varying fortunes of the disputed cymbal crash at the climax of the adagio, it was included here.

I had not seen Haitink conduct for a few years and I was surprised by his physical frailty. A step had been installed at the side of the podium for his benefit and he was also provided with a stool. The continuous intensity that characterises his performances must make punishing work for an octogenarian. He conducted both symphonies with only the briefest of pauses between movements, apart from one more extended break after the adagio of the Bruckner. This was the only point at which he actually sat on the stool, but it was as if he was taking a break on doctor’s orders and that he was fighting his musical instinct in not continuing straight into the scherzo. The scherzo itself was focussed and directed, but by the finale he was beginning to lose his tight control of the ensemble. There were no serious lapses, but it was significant that Haitink is beginning to struggle with the, admittedly monumental, scale of this work, which is so central to his repertoire. It was also a shame that the white-hot intensity with which the performance began did not continue through to the climax of the finale. It was still an awesome experience, but one tinged with regret, demonstrating as it did that the immortality upon which Bruckner’s art is based, all too sadly does not extend to the living legend at the podium.

Gavin Dixon

Back to Top                                                 Cumulative Index Page

counter to