first few issues on the Concertgebouw
Orchestraís own new label have concentrated
on performances in which they are conducted
by their new Chief Conductor, Mariss
Jansons. However, Iím delighted that
the first guest conductor to appear
on the label is the Concertgebouwís
highly distinguished Laureate, Bernard
This orchestra has
a long and notable Bruckner pedigree.
The tradition was honed and nurtured
by such luminaries as Eduard van Beinum
and Eugen Jochum. However, arguably
no-one has done more to foster the orchestraís
reputation for excellence in Bruckner
This is his fourth
recording of the symphony. He first
set it down with the Concertgebouw in
1969, a recording that I only have on
LP. He recorded it again with the same
orchestra in 1981 and made a third recording,
this time with the Vienna Philharmonic,
in 1995. Itís this last version that,
coupled with the Third, is available
in the Philips Duo series. Now along
comes a brand new, live version with
Haitink back on "home turf"
Anyone who has read
the survey of Bruckner recordings that
Patrick Waller and I compiled a while
here will know that Iím a great
admirer of Haitink as a Bruckner conductor.
Although in that survey Gunter Wandís
2001 reading of the Eighth Symphony
emerged as my own first choice I feel
that Haitink runs him very close in
this work, especially in his 1995 Vienna
Philharmonic account review.
Many of the comments that I made when
reviewing that Vienna version apply
equally to this newcomer.
Patrick Waller, who
has the 1969 version on CD, has kindly
supplied the precise timings of that
recording. Itís instructive to compare
the timings of all four performances
Really, thereís not
a great deal of difference between timings
of the last three versions but the consistency
between the 1981 and 2005 Amsterdam
performances is especially remarkable.
Listening to the different recordings
confirms what the timings suggest, namely
that Haitink hasnít altered his basic
view of this great work very much in
the last twenty-five years.
I read a generally
favourable review of this performance
in the September issue of International
Record Review in which the distinguished
critic, Richard Osborne expressed some
disappointment that Haitinkís view of
the work "has not become more visionary,
more probing." Mr. Osborne is someone
whose judgement of Bruckner recordings
Iíve found to be extremely sound and
perceptive over the years and he well
may be right in this verdict too. However
may I suggest an alternative view? Itís
quite clear that Haitink re-thought
his interpretation pretty radically
between 1969 and 1981, broadening his
whole conception of the piece significantly.
Though Iím sure that Haitink will have
continued to ponder the score over the
years itís quite possible that, having
arrived at a very carefully considered
view of the work by the early 1980s,
he has seen no reason to change it.
This would be of a piece with his sober,
reflective style of music-making, a
style which Iíve always found has a
great deal to commend it.
However, if you prefer
a warmer, more moulded and flexible
stance, a romantic view, in short, you
may find Haitink a little too objective
for your taste. Personally, I like his
way with Bruckner though Iím equally
impressed with the more overt approach
of, say, Giulini. review
In this latest recording
Haitink builds the first movement with
great patience and understanding. The
climaxes, such as the one around 9í00",
have grandeur and a sense of inevitability.
Mind you, the sonority of the Concertgebouw
Orchestra is a great boon. Thereís a
tremendous richness to the string sound
(e.g. around 12:00). As was proved when
the orchestra visited the Promenade
concerts in London earlier this month
(September 2005) the players really
are displaying a rich vein of musical
form right now. So, with a foundation
of wonderful string tone crowned by
golden brass the final climax of this
movement (from 14:27) has great power.
On this occasion I donít feel that the
coda is as desolate as it can sound
- and as it did sound on the 1995 VPO
recording. Rather, on this occasion
thereís a resigned air to the music,
which I find just as satisfying.
The scherzo is purposeful
and strong. Haitink imparts a rugged
sturdiness to the rhythms but he also
shapes the more lyrical trio beautifully.
The huge adagio, arguably
Brucknerís greatest single achievement,
is at the heart of the performance,
as it should be. Hereís where Haitinkís
powers of concentration and his ability
to take a sustained long view pay dividends.
The whole movement is superbly controlled
from the rostrum and is wondrously played.
Brucknerís seemingly inexhaustible string
lines are splendidly sustained and the
brass plays with glowing tone. Haitink
negotiates every transition in the music
with admirable skill, weaving the movement
into a seamless whole. The climaxes
build inexorably and majestically and
when the final climax arrives (at 21:55)
it has been superbly prepared over several
paragraphs and bursts forth in radiant
majesty. The coda is quite splendid.
The choir of Wagner tubas and horns
is gently sonorous and the strings play
with great eloquence.
The finale can sound
the most episodic of the four movements
but Haitink moulds one passage into
another with the skill that comes from
long experience and musical wisdom.
His control of pace seems unerring -
a comment which could equally well apply
to each of the preceding movements.
When the final peroration arrives he
begins it in mystery and gradually escalates
to a concluding blaze of power and majesty.
Applause has been retained, rightly
in my view, but it comes after a respectful
pause and thereís no cheering; such
a reaction would have been wholly out
of place given the dedication of the
This is a reading of
nobility and integrity. It may yield
in majesty and spirituality to the last
recordings of Karajan and Wand and it
doesnít have the same intensity that
Giulini brought to the work. But thatís
never been Haitinkís way and this reading
is still a very fine achievement indeed
and itís graced by superb playing. The
recorded sound is very good. However,
comparing this newcomer with the 1981
Concertgebouw version I found that on
my equipment there seemed to be a bit
more space and bloom around the sound
on the earlier recording. Both versions
were set down in the same hall but I
assume that in 1981, when the recording
was made under studio conditions, the
hall was empty and I wonder if the orchestra
was set out in the stalls area rather
than on the stage. However, though the
2005 sound is a bit closer I felt it
was fully acceptable and thereís no
intrusive audience noise.
If you have one of
Haitinkís other CD versions of this
work I think you can rest content with
what you have already. However, every
Bruckner collection ought to contain
at least one Haitink version of the
Eighth so if you havenít so far acquired
a recording by this great Brucknerian
then this authoritative newcomer is
very warmly recommended.