LPO CDs – Bernard Haitink

0 of 5 stars

Introduction and Allegro, Op.47
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Our Hunting Fathers, Op.8

Heather Harper (soprano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Live recordings – Royal Festival Hall, London, 27 November 1984 (Introduction and Allegro); Royal Albert Hall, London, 14 August 1979 (Our Hunting Fathers) & 28 August 1986 (Enigma Variations)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: LPO – 0002
Duration: 75 minutes

In the first batch of London Philharmonic releases, two are new – celebrating current partnerships with principal conductor Kurt Masur (Shostakovich) and principal guest conductor (Vladimir Jurowski) – and two celebrate former fabled partnerships, with Bernard Haitink and Klaus Tennstedt.

First things first, I must say how impressed I am with the cover artwork of all four releases, each subtly using the orchestra’s new livery of a five-pointed star somewhere in each image. In the case of Haitink’s British programme (Britten flanked by Elgar), the mown lawn with a wood behind has the star pattern crossing the turf; and there are similar attractions on the remaining issues.

On a further extra-musical point, the releases divide regarding booklet notes; the two recorded with Masur and Jurowski are by Anthony Burton and reflect the notes from the concert programmes. They include translations in German and are a typical stapled insert. The archive recordings have notes by Eduardo Benarroch, but only in English; Haitink’s similarly in a stapled booklet, but with the Auden texts each given a separate page, to bulk out the pages.

This review is of Haitink’s British disc, recorded at three different performances in two halls. It is an important document because it may be – with Haitink now staking his allegiance to the London Symphony Orchestra, and the fact that he was appointed the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s President over a decade ago seemingly never mentioned (certainly not in the CD insert) if not rescinded.

The earliest performance, from the Proms in 1979, is perhaps the most interesting, a searing account with Heather Harper of Britten’s settings of Auden. Haitink’s ever-objective textual clarity in Britten’s first full orchestral piece, foreshadowing particularly “Spring Symphony”, pays dividends, with perhaps larger-than-life percussion on tap.

Neither of the Elgar works are anywhere near as acerbic. To some ears Haitink’s readings may not be idiomatically English, but his objectivity makes you listen to these scores afresh. The Festival Hall acoustic means the Introduction and Allegro is set against quite a dry background, while Enigma is played in a less natural Albert Hall acoustic. Haitink’s is a respectfully adroit account of the score, at 32 minutes nowhere near Bernstein’s controversial 38, which added nearly nine minutes to Elgar’s own recording. Boult clocked in at just over the 30-minute mark.

I found that I was hearing music that I was not conscious of before, as if I didn’t need to equate it to the various portraits “pictured within”. Of course Haitink doesn’t solve the puzzle as to what the “original theme” actually is, but that is not the point. For a balanced, musical view of this all-too-familiar work, this is a performance that will do very nicely. So a wholehearted welcome to this ‘archive’ recording.

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