The LSO and Bernard Haitink are just two Beethoven and Bruckner concerts away from a tour of South Korea and Japan (until 10 March). This Britten-Mozart-Beethoven programme is also destined for the suitcases. Having conducted it in the theatre and made a recording, Haitink knows the opera Peter Grimes as an entity; the LSO similarly with Colin Davis. The ‘Four Sea Interludes’, if a little underpowered at times – ‘Sunday Morning’ in particular for all the detail that Haitink’s moderation elicited –, were indivisible in their progress and also part of a bigger picture. ‘Dawn’ shimmered to the first light of a new day, LSO violins (antiphonal) absolutely secure in the highest registers, with low brass ominously foretelling of the opera’s ultimate tragedy. Placed third, ‘Moonlight’ was softly expressed before building to a gnarled climax, and if ‘Storm’ lacked for wildness the precise and powerful playing built a tangible tempest that went deeper than a showpiece and caught both Grimes’s dreams and desperation.
Not for the first time Maria João Pires and Bernard Haitink made a lovely couple, bringing subtle and meaningful musical interaction. The first movement of K453 was elegant and insouciant, the strings (reduced, founded on three double basses) lightly bowed, the winds (flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns) beguiling, and Pires herself sparkled through her gentle touch, always willing to accompany where necessary. Fortunately no applause intruded to dampen such delights or to harm anticipation of the soulful and troubled slow movement, here made spellbinding in its clandestine unfolding, silences as important as the notes. The finale bubbled along with wit and point, and not a few shadows, during which the strings’ minimal use of vibrato was a well-judged decoration. Then we were in the midst of a comic opera and a ‘happy ever after’ conclusion. The cadenzas that Pires played were unidentified (not by Mozart, I believe) if stylish and belonging. Thankfully Pires hasn’t joined the ranks of soloists who come armed with encores – whether justified or not – for what she gave us was sufficient; indeed this collegiate and innate performance had a modesty that spoke volumes on behalf of the music.
Finally, a superb Beethoven 7, fresh and compelling, for which Haitink’s score remained unopened. An octogenarian Haitink may now be, but he conducted with sustained energy and lucidity. With the LSO’s strings returned to full strength, less one double bass (now seven), crisp timpani, and horns and trumpets integrated rather than dominating, this was a lithe and equably balanced account that was never faster than it needed to be, time given in the first movement for lyrical asides, and Haitink’s driving of the development section was blessedly free of the undue emphases and hesitations that some interpreters like to introduce. The succeeding Allegretto was of purposeful tread and a wide dynamic range (some passages nearly out of earshot, yet without affectation), the fugal episode exquisitely sounded and weighted. The scherzo gambolled along delightfully, nowhere near the marked Presto, and the better for it, the trio kept moving to be joyful rather than bombastic. If the finale seemed
initially hectic, either it settled or I adjusted; certainly it was full of beans, the coda (with those opposing violins battling it out, as Beethoven intended) the more thrilling for there being no spurious speeding to the finishing post, Haitink canny enough to realise that the Gold was already his. Well, Beethoven’s. For the record, all repeats were observed.