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Bernard Haitink: The Early Years
Volume 1
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.
BEULAH 1PS51 [65:32]

Volume 2
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlást : 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.
BEULAH 2PS51 [69:24]

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 sound).

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: review – 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 download.

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, download only).

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 review 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 – review review. 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 (1960) (4PS51).

All told, these four volumes, while not essential purchases, offer an interesting sidelight on the early part of Haitink’s career at a reasonable price.

1 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'.

Brian Wilson

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