Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Symphony No.7 in E
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi
Reviewed: 15 December, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
What is interesting about concerts where the content of one half seems distant from that of the other is that one is motivated to ponder hidden connections and unifying aspects. Here, Bernard Haitink gave an inspiring lesson on how Mozart’s and Bruckner’s mature grandeur found its most striking and touching expression in their ability to deal with the most gloomy matters in major keys, thereby producing this unique mixture of cheerfulness and grief. Haitink’s sober, more administrative than domineering gestures were just an outward reflection of what was to be this evening’s lasting effect.
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 concert’s 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 Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony to its triumphant ending, the same spirit helped ensure similar lavish, though non-indulgent, pleasure. As overwhelming as any of Bruckner’s later symphonies, No.7 transcends itself in the sudden intrusion of the sorrow (for Wagner’s death) in the Adagio’s coda. With its last C major chord, a fermata over the brass (including Wagner Tubas), Haitink pulled the carpet from underneath the audience’s 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