Glittering Prize – LSO/Haitink (21 May)

Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 May, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

There were no strings attached in these performances (and no violins in the serenade), typically honest, non-indulgent, phlegmatic even, renditions. Bernard Haitink’s musicianship, needless to say, went off the scale. And to emphasise this latter point, the LSO was wholly focussed on its task, its applause indicative of warmth and admiration for the maestro.

A small group of violas, cellos, basses and wind huddled on to the platform. Haitink, bereft of baton and podium, score open, conjured a mellifluously played account of Brahms’s nocturnal-sounding five-movement serenade, which had its bland moments, some paragraphs harried. The fourth movement ’Quasi menuetto’ made this point, it had a degree more engagement, the movement possessed of those telltale things that make a difference.

Similarly in the symphony – baton and podium restored, score closed – which took a while to take wing, the recapitulation of the first movement to be precise. The ’Andante sostenuto’ flowed persuasively, contours of song nudged the mould, and Gordan Nikolitch provided a radiant violin solo. From ’intermezzo’ to grand finale should really be indivisible; Haitink let tension slip here – not really a place to move bums and cough (people did of course) – but all was gathered safely in. Dare one mention it was a little streamlined, despite the collective musicianship easily discerned? When Haitink did impose, in the deliberate and biting closing bars for example, the pace slightly quickening to triumph, it made a difference. The large number of strings and Brahms’s requested woodwind contingent co-existed amazingly well; horns though could be over-prominent, trumpets snapped and harder sticks would have been advantageous on the timpani.

Haitink is this year’s ABO Award recipient (Association of British Orchestras). Simon Rattle gave the “personal” speech he promised, Haitink said we shouldn’t believe everything we heard and duly made a gracious acceptance speech with much praise for our musicians.

Concert, if not award ceremony, repeated tonight, 22nd.

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