Starting with a Haffner Symphony that was without disguises accessed from a Romantic orchestral perspective, both conductor and orchestra conveyed the sinewy alertness that would be this concerts distinctive feature. Most remarkable was the precise and synchronous responsiveness of the strings; clarity, tension, concentrated and dynamic, the first and last movements particularly came close to the agility of period-instrument performance or even left many of these behind. The Andante revealed another side of the piece, or of the composer, or indeed the conductor; while the strings were allowed to feast in their mellow sweetness, the overall focus was on structure. One could almost conclude that there was some kind of postmodernist reflection underlying this combination of asceticism and indulgence. Nowhere was a notion like sentimentality further away than in this heavenly movement. While the wittily performed Minuet and Trio proceeded further into traditional symphonic style, the high spirited finale recaptured the performing mode of the first movement, Haitink directing the piece towards the highest possible tension, strings displaying startling virtuosity.
From the trembling thirds of the opening bars of Bruckners Seventh Symphony to its triumphant ending, the same spirit helped ensure similar lavish, though non-indulgent, pleasure. As overwhelming as any of Bruckners later symphonies, No.7 transcends itself in the sudden intrusion of the sorrow (for Wagners death) in the Adagios coda. With its last C major chord, a fermata over the brass (including Wagner Tubas), Haitink pulled the carpet from underneath the audiences feet and the performance reached epiphanic dimensions. The wild, ritualistic scherzo almost served as an antidote, and after a concluding, conciliatory final movement, it seemed that the audience would not stop applauding. The centre of enthusiasm, for all his understatement, was Bernard Haitink himself.
- Haitink conducts the LSO on 19 December in Haydn & Mahler