early September, as the Henry Wood Promenade Concert season
drew to a close in London, I was lucky enough to see a television
broadcast of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony conducted
by Bernard Haitink. It was a superb performance and displayed
so many of the qualities that have made me admire this fine
conductor for many years. How a conductor can direct a thrilling
performance of one of the most theatrical of symphonies without
recourse to histrionics, as Haitink did on this occasion,
is something of a miracle. Part of the answer, of course,
lies in thorough preparation both of himself and them, by
him, of the other musicians so that he can draw the very
best out of them in performance. This is allied to an intense
musicality and a determination to put across the music without
coming between the listener and the music. These admirable
virtues are to the fore also in these excellent Beethoven
recordings were captured live at concert performances in
November 2005. The performance of the Second Symphony on
21 November was reviewed for Seen and Heard by Tristan Jakob-Hoff
He also reviewed the performance of the ‘Pastoral’ that
took place on 26 November (see review).
was not as impressed by the performance of the Second as
I was – though we are at one in our admiration for Haitink’s
traversal of ‘Eroica’, given in the same concert,
which has recently been released on LSO0080 and which I bought
when it was issued. I was also delighted to see that we have
an identity of view about Haitink’s ‘Pastoral’
traversal of the ‘Pastoral’ is a very fine achievement,
founded on tempi that strike me as well nigh ideal. He takes
the first movement at a flowing, genial tempo. However, please
don’t interpret that description as implying that the performance
is easy going: there’s ample purpose in Haitink’s conducting.
The LSO plays radiantly for him. I liked very much the nice,
firm bass line, tellingly enriched at times by the horns,
and the attention to dynamics is scrupulous – though never
studied – throughout the symphony as a whole. By the time
the end of the first movement arrived I felt I’d heard a
wonderfully wise and civilised account of the piece.
second movement, Scene by the Brook, is shaped beautifully.
Once again the tempo is adroitly chosen; it’s easeful but
you never feel the music is dawdling. The strings and the
woodwinds afford Haitink some fine playing and there are
some lovely woodwind solos to enjoy. The third movement is
light and lithe – this is a joyful and delightfully well-sprung
dance. I wrote the word “infectious” in my listening notes.
The storm that follows is exciting, featuring some thrilling
thwacks on the timpani.
finale brings a wonderful summation of the performance. In
Haitink’s experienced hands the music is serene, evincing
an inner warmth and radiance. The phrasing is affectionate
and completely natural. Yet again the pacing is flawless
and the playing is glowing. Although Haitink shapes the music
splendidly he achieves this while keeping it on the move.
The very ending is wonderfully satisfying, just like the
entire performance that has gone before it.
This ‘Pastoral’ isn’t “revolutionary” in
the same way as those by Gardiner, Harnoncourt or Zinman – all
versions that I find tremendously stimulating. It is, however,
a version to live with, one to listen to when one just wants
to relax and marvel at the freshness of Beethoven’s invention.
It’s a performance to savour and this is a version that I
know I shall want to return to often.
Second Symphony also receives a fine and intelligent performance.
Haitink presents the lengthy first movement introduction
well, shaping the music purposefully and controlling the
tension very well. The main allegro, when it arrives, is
bright, vigorous and emphatic. Haitink sustains thrust and
drive throughout but never overdoes things.
relaxation of the slow movement is welcome after the energy
of the preceding movement. The reading is distinguished by
smooth orchestral phrasing. It’s a genial movement and I
thought that Haitink and his players delivered this felicitous
music with a collective smile. The playful, exuberant scherzo
is tossed off with no little brio. The extrovert mood is
carried over into the finale, which seems to me to be buoyant
and joyful. Here Beethoven wrote a movement of tremendous
energy and it sounds as if the performers are not only relishing
that but having fun in the process.
sound quality is good as are the notes by Lindsay Kemp. I
listened to the disc as a conventional CD and found that
reproduction was excellent, offering clear and well-balanced
really is an absurd bargain to be able to buy this CD for
less than the price of a ticket for one of the concerts at
which these performances were first given. However, while
the concerts inevitably become just a memory, through the
medium of CD listeners can relive the concert hall experience
at will. This disc contains a very good account of the Second
Symphony and a quite splendid version of the ‘Pastoral.
With a great orchestra on top form and directed by a master
conductor this is a self-recommending issue, one that make
me impatient to hear the rest of the cycle (see review of
Symphony 7 and Triple Concerto).
(USA sales only)