Bernard Haitink: The Early Years
Alphons DIEPENBROCK (1862-1921)
Elektra, Symphonic Suite [13:27]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.1 in D [52:05]
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Bernard Haitink
rec. November 1958 (live broadcast), September 1962. ADD/stereo.
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
: Vltava [12:51]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.3 in D, WAB103 (1877/78 version, ed. Oeser) [56:33]
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Bernard Haitink
rec. September 1961, October 1963. ADD/stereo.
Bernard Haitink having announced that his appearance on the podium at the
Lucerne Festival on 6 September 2019 will be his last, Beulah have released
two timely reissues of his early recordings, with two more to follow. One of the last concerts
includes Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and the final concert includes Bruckner’s
Seventh Symphony, so these are appropriate reminders of his association
with those two composers. If there are, inevitably, reservations about
these reissues, they serve a valuable purpose in winding the clock back and
reminding us of Haitink’s early career.
Haitink recorded Mahler’s Titan Symphony several times: his Berlin
Philharmonic version remains available as a download or as a Presto special
CD (4209362) and his most recent Chicago recording can be obtained on CD or
SACD (CSOR901902/901904) or as a download. The Concertgebouw recording, the
version reissued by Beulah can be found on Philips 4260672, formerly a
super-budget Concert Classic, now a Presto special CD or as a download. Any
of these costs more than the Beulah reissue and comes without a filler. The
complete cycle is now download only (Decca 4834643, around Ł35 in lossless
The 1959 recording of the Diepenbrock is, unsurprisingly, dry and thin.
Though it sounds perfectly acceptable, even more than the rest of these
releases, this is best regarded as an example of Haitink’s career, in this
case reminding us of his pioneering of the music of his fellow Dutch. For
all that, the power of the music, a suite from his 1920 music for the
Sophocles play, his final work, is conveyed in this recording.
Other recordings of the Elektra Suite come from Hans Vonk with the
Hague Philharmonic, in an 8-CD Anniversary Collection of the composer’s
music (Et’cetera KTC1435), with the same recording on a single Chandos CD
of his works (CHAN10029 –
review), another Diepenbrock collection from Riccardo Chailly and the
Concertgebouw (Composers Voice CV050, download only) and a collection of
his symphonic poems (CPO 777927-2).
When we have recently had so many fine versions of the Titan
symphony, not least of the Hamburg version from Les Sičcles and Xavier Roth
on Harmonia Mundi – Recommended:
– it may seem perverse to hark back to Haitink’s first stereo recording.
There have to be reservations about the reissue, not least the omission of
the exposition repeat in the first movement, but this easy-going,
unexaggerated account has much to recommend it, even by comparison with the
Roth and with my Desert Island choice from Raphael Kubelík and the Bavarian
Radio Symphony Orchestra, a superb bargain with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (DG Originals 4497352). Only in the
rather pulled-around third movement does the Haitink performance sound
contrived – and that less than I have seen described. As with the Bruckner,
a fine account of the finale allays most reservations.
The original release and subsequent reissues, including on CD, reportedly
never sounded ideal, so I’m very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the
Beulah transfers from the LP.
Haitink’s Concertgebouw Bruckner cycle is available in a recent 10-CD plus
blu-ray audio set (4834660, around Ł55 or lossless download around Ł26).
Even at the very reasonable price, that’s quite an outlay when the Beulah
Third – apparently not otherwise available separately1 – can be
yours for just Ł7.99 in a good transfer (preferably choose lossless sound
from Qobuz). Nor is the Smetana coupling available other than in a multi-CD
I was slightly disappointed with the Smetana. Ideally, it needs plush
orchestral sound and recording and, while the Concertgebouw offer an
idiomatic reading, either they or the Philips engineers were not quite on
their most opulent form that day. That’s a small matter, however, when the
Bruckner is the main point of this reissue and I’d rather have this account
than Karajan’s super-plush version from around the same time.
Haitink directs it with a lilt, but Vltava is best heard in the
context of the complete Má Vlást and Beulah have the clearest
transfer that I know of the classic Czech Phil recording under Talich in
1954, ideally obtained in lossless sound from
Qobuz. The inexpensive Classics for Pleasure version conducted by
Sir Malcolm Sargent also offers an unexpectedly fine complete Má Vlást,
with a faster flowing river Moldau than from Haitink or Talich (9689522,
No problems with the sound of the Bruckner or the interpretation of the
‘Wagner’ symphony. It’s performed here in Bruckner’s second version before
the Schalk brothers persuaded him to make more changes and cuts2. The ‘best’
version, then, from a rather muddled picture of revisions, but the
recording received only a modest welcome when it appeared on SAL3560.
Certainly, it avoids the extremes of the two DG versions which were to
follow, from Eugen Jochum and Herbert von Karajan, the one emphasising the
music’s separate paragraphs, the other a little too joined up.
I like Jochum’s way with Bruckner, but his recordings are now tied up in a
multi-CD set – details in my
of Valery Gergiev’s Munich recording on their in-house label. There is much
to like about the Gergiev, but not his use of the final edition of 1889.
I’m pleased that Haitink chose the 1878 edition and I’m happy that Beulah
have reissued it; it seems to me a good compromise between the Jochum and
Karajan styles of Bruckner. Listening to the end of the finale in Haitink’s
hands is enough to allay my doubts.
There’s a lot to be said for Bruckner’s much longer first version of 1873,
as recorded by Yannick Nézet-Seguin with the Dresden Staatskapelle on
Profil: Recording of the Month –
Either that or Osmo Vänskä on mid-price Hyperion (CDH55474, 1877 edition
with Adagio from 1876 manuscript) would probably be my Desert Island
choice, but I would be happy if someone slipped in this Haitink reissue,
too. The recording has come up very nicely; it may sound a trifle
over-bright compared with more modern versions, but there’s none of the
surface noise reported on its release in 1967.
I’m pleased to see that in both cases the filler is placed first; too often
the reverse is true.
The two volumes which will complete the Haitink tribute will include
Mendelssohn’s Fourth (1960) and Beethoven’s Sixth (1962) Symphonies, with
Andriessen and Tchaikovsky (3PS51) and Dvořák Symphony No.7 (1959),
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra (1960) and Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture
All told, these four volumes, while not essential purchases, offer an
interesting sidelight on the early part of Haitink’s career at a reasonable
The 2-CD Philips Duo of Nos. 3 and 8 from Haitink and the Vienna
Philharmonic is download only (4705342).
2 Perhaps it's no coincidence that Schalk means 'rogue' or 'villain'.