Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the Barbican Hall, London in 2006 on 19 & 20 April (Symphony No.4) & 24 & 25 April
Reviewed by: Paul Cherry
Reviewed: October 2006
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0087
Duration: 58 minutes
The sixth and final instalment of Bernard Haitink’s Beethoven symphony cycle for LSO Live couples two of the less-heroic symphonies.
It’s been interesting to work through all these live performances as issued on CD (all are reviewed on this site, links below) – something of a ‘lifeline’ to London concerts for anyone, like myself, who lives some way from the metropolis – and to appreciate Haitink’s amalgamation of ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’ aspects of Beethoven performance. Whether a total success has been achieved is debatable, for it could be argued that Haitink has made the music fit an overall conception, with mixed degrees of success.
With generally fast tempos and vivid detail, Haitink’s traversals have certainly been lively, and he has had a very responsive LSO producing playing of a high order, both solo and corporately; in addition, Haitink’s use of antiphonal violins and a crisp timpani sound have many benefits.
What is less certain is the matter of tempo. However nimble the LSO’s execution, the outer movements of Symphony No. 4 are maybe just too quick, and the Adagio is pushed on a little too much: it needs more space. But the playing sparkles and details shine through. Haitink certainly captures the symphony’s grace, though.
Symphony No.8 is more robust if, like the Fourth, not the wittiest of accounts; and what most impresses is the power that Haitink and the LSO develop; a controlled but unstoppable machine, with many felicitous touches.
Not the last word on either work, but these are performances that often delight and can be returned to with pleasure. Definitive Beethoven is probably an impossibility; yet some conductors can create the impression that their approach is the only way (George Szell’s Cleveland recording of the ‘Eroica’, for example). Haitink isn’t quite in this league, and if ‘hybrid’ Beethoven can perhaps never be completely satisfying, one always appreciates Haitink’s honesty and conviction, and his close rapport with the LSO, which is tangibly recorded.