While not complaining about the Pragues inclusion, I note that Mozart and Bruckner are fast becoming inseparable concert bedfellows. With Bruckners Wagner Symphony might have gone the Tannhauser Overture (Dresden version of course) with Schuberts vivacious Third as sandwich-filler, a dance-related Austrian companion to Bruckners earthier invention; Mozarts Linz Symphony would have been geographically closer to Bruckners Ansfelden birthplace.
K504 is one of Mozarts greatest achievements (and one of my favourite pieces). Haitinks forward-moving Adagio introduction with Don Giovanni in its shadows - and the flowing slow movement, its pathos gentler here but no less telling, may perhaps reflect an interest in authentic performing practice. Certainly there was a tempo relationship between the three movements (theres no Minuet) which meant the Presto finale was no faster than it needed to be and bubbled with good humour. With exposition repeats in place, Haitink gave each movement largesse of expression and tautness of construction, subtle inflections and dynamics complementing and illuminating the journey.
Haitinks lucid conducting of Bruckner is always long-term, not only in his building of the edifice but crucial this his layering of dynamics, which has a significant part in determining structural contours. Haitink led a spacious Wagner Symphony, its first version (1872-3) being Bruckners composer-homage, then he revised it in 1877 with only a passing reference, in the finale, to Die Walkures Magic Fire Music. Come 1889, the second revision an abortion to quote one commentator is Bruckners last main attempt to perfect it, but there are at least six versions (in the stated years, Bruckner appears to have also prepared alternative texts); performance possibilities can be further extended by adding individual movements, the 1876 Adagio for example.
Conductors used to gravitate to Nowaks 1889 version, but now the focus is more on 1877; Haitink it seems has always preferred that year, first in Oesers edition, now Nowaks the main differences are a big pause early into the first movement (which Oeser eschews with linking material) and a scherzo coda that Bruckner forbade playing, which Nowak includes! This version-minefield of a symphony was billed, for this concert, as 1st definitive version in the south bank magazine. The words Bruckner and definitive are rarely combined! The first score didnt find favour with Wagner he wasnt keen on Bruckner quoting him although there are Bruckner experts, not least William Carragan, who regard Bruckners initial thoughts as often his best this viewpoint is also significant when considering the Fourth and Eighth symphonies. The 1877 Third represents a compromise between the innovative if flawed debut and the conventional 1889. Personally, abortion or not, I prefer the structure and orchestration of the ultimate copy, especially in the finale.
These considerations mattered less though in Haitinks glorious performance, which splendidly exploited the golden sonorities of the Dresden Staatskapelle. There were some wonderful moments of calm in the first movement when the music hung on a thread of pianissimo tone, yet was pregnant with atmosphere and quivered with anticipation. The culture and refinement of the Orchestra was palpable throughout a lifetimes work for its members: LP and CD collectors will know the names of Peter Mirring he remains the Concertmaster and Peter Damm, whose liquid opening solo magically conveyed a horn being blown across mountains.
Silver flutes, honeyed oboes, lithe and warm strings, and refulgent, never coarse, brass contributed to a very special performance, one massive and lyrical, fiery and dancing the trios landler daintily springy, the finales polka less indulged than it could have been with Haitink jacking-up the brasss dynamics, which made for amusing counterpoint, especially from trombones.
What also gave considerable pleasure was the ease and authority with which the Dresdeners shared their innate understanding of the music Haitink the catalyst, the term first among equals apposite. What a pleasure too that, after a couple of cancellations, Haitink was not only conducting (from memory) and doing so with such keenness and control. Its on evenings like this that theres no doubting Bernard Haitink is one of the great conductors.
- The next Classic International concert features the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra playing Webern and Brahms under Riccardo Chailly RFH, Monday 19 March, 7.30
- After this the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta will play Schubert, Schoenberg and Tchaikovsky RFH, Monday 23 April, 7.30
- Box Office 020 7960 4201
- Book Online www.rfh.org.uk