Haitink and the LSO – 5th May

Symphony No.96 in D (Miracle)
Dance Suite
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 May, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

As this concert was due to begin, my thoughts turned to the Royal Festival Hall where Evgeny Svetlanov should have been conducting. His death two days earlier leaves a void; it was surprising, therefore, that the LSO offered no tribute, not even a spoken remembrance, to a conductor who led the orchestra in many memorable concerts during the ’seventies and ’eighties.

Meanwhile, another illustrious maestro stepped up for Haydn 96, not the ’miracle symphony’ – it appears that No.102 was actually being played when a falling chandelier missed the audience – but most Haydn is miraculous. Bernard Haitink’s crisp and affectionate reading was perhaps a little streamlined but always attractive, especially in the anticipatory slow introduction, delightful lilt of the ’Trio’ and the fleet ’Finale’, quick but not at the expense of articulation.

Bernard Haitink’s greatness owes much to his honesty and integrity. This backfired in Bartók’s Dance Suite, which was dulled and regulated. Surprisingly finicky at times, Haitink exposed some susceptible ensemble; textures though were ear-catchingly diaphanous throughout and the oriental hues of the fourth section came off especially well. Although there was much feeling in the reflective ritornelli, the upbeat dances hung fire – something earthier, rougher, a suggestion of dirt under the fingernails was needed.

Amends were made with Brahms 4, a glorious performance wonderfully well played – nothing in the concert was under-rehearsed but the Brahms was the most practised. It even survived the man who spent two minutes rummaging through a very noisy plastic bag as the slow movement started and a repeater-alarm that heralded and inveigled the ’Finale’. (I wonder if the slaying of disruptive audience members could be made legal.)

Haitink’s equipoise between Brahms’s Classical and Romantic leanings was ideal – burnished singing lines, punctilious attention to rhythmic underpinning and wind/strings dialogue, and consistently eloquent shaping that never impeded the through-line. Had Haitink unleashed more force in the outer movements’ codas, this would have truly clinched the argument. This relative restraint underlined Haitink’s lofty way with the music, which bordered on the serene at times, and can be placed with Sanderling, Celibidache, Giulini and Klemperer – with not quite the respective darkness, pigmentation or spiritualism of the first three but at one with the latter in architectural splendour.

Haitink’s personal way was through time-taken, rounded phrasing and warmth of expression. Aspirational throughout, Haitink’s humanity allowed the music to speak direct. His next LSO concert is much anticipated, not least for the mouth-watering prospect of Bizet’s endearing symphony and Debussy’s priceless La mer.

  • Bernard Haitink conducts the LSO on May 15/16 in the above pieces plus Beethoven 7
  • Box Office: 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk

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