became principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
in 2006, some thirty years after he first appeared with them.
Like many of the world’s other major orchestras they are now
venturing into “own-label” territory. This is the second release
on the new label, the first being a recording of Mahler’s Third,
also conducted by Haitink.
Both orchestra and
conductor have outstanding Brucknerian credentials. The US premičre
of this work was given in Chicago in 1886 just two years after
the composer’s first triumph in Leipzig, and the orchestra recorded
for Decca a complete cycle of the symphonies under Solti. As
for Haitink, he made his name in Amsterdam with a complete recorded
cycle dating from 1963-72 and then re-recorded some of works
in Amsterdam and others in Vienna. Both his versions of the
Seventh were made in Amsterdam – in 1966 and 1978 – and they
are quite different. The latter reading is broader, more deeply-felt,
better-recorded and finer in just about every way. It is also
long-deleted whilst the 1966 effort continues to be available
on a Philips Duo (see review)
and in the complete series (Philips 4756740).
The present performance
is a conglomerate of multiple live performances – the dates
suggest as many as four although perhaps there is some rehearsal
material or post-concert patching? I don’t think it is possible
to tell or that there is anything wrong with such methods. Indeed
this sounds like a live performance but with hardly any intrusion
by the audience.
has not changed greatly over thirty years. The trend towards
broadening of tempi has continued but it is marginal. He allows
himself even greater expressive freedom, as I have often felt
he tends to do in live performance compared to the studio. Overall,
it is about as good a version of this work as I have ever heard.
Haitink is equally at home in all four movements and conjures
simply fabulous playing from all sections of the orchestra.
There is a natural flow, and inevitability, about the way he
deals with Bruckner’s large structures and sheer magic in the
transitions, especially in the first movement. The adagio is
not as elegiac as some (e.g. Karajan) but I think the farewell
to Wagner can be overplayed and it certainly isn’t here. The
scherzo is a little more analytical and less rustic than before
while the finale brings a truly fitting peroration. Incidentally,
Richard Osborne in the Gramophone suggests that Haitink
is “grandstanding” at the very end, a comment I find hard to
The recorded sound
presents an excellent perspective with clarity and the documentation
is reasonable for an upper mid-price issue. No information is
given regarding the edition used but it matters little for this
symphony. As previously in Haitink’s recordings, the debatable
cymbal clash is given at the climax of the slow movement and
magnificent it sounds too.
With regard to competition,
this issue leaves Loughran live in Aarhus well behind (review).
It is also preferable to Karajan’s 1970 studio recording (review)
and a plausible current top choice for the work. I am not sure
that it is a greater recording than Haitink’s 1978 version but
that is irrelevant to prospective purchasers at the moment.
A disc which celebrates
a potentially very fruitful musical marriage. This should be heard
by all Brucknerians.
Patrick C Waller