LSO/Haitink [Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony … Maria João Pires plays Mozart]

Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [“Second version of 1877/8 Nowak Edition, published 1953, with 1880 Finale”]

Maria João Pires (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 14 June, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Maria João Pires. Photograph: Christian SteinerStanding in at short notice for the indisposed Murray Perahia, Maria João Pires offered Mozart’s final piano concerto as a replacement for Schumann’s sole example. Mozart’s last thoughts on the piano concerto are sometimes treated with valedictory reverence as though profundity can only be achieved through world-weariness of utterance. The truth is that, like gazing intently at the still surface of a lake at sunset, one knows intuitively that much lies beneath it but appreciates the scene without necessarily being able to see below the surface. Without recourse to artifice or point-making Pires and Bernard Haitink allowed the music to speak for itself. Tempos were particularly well-chosen. The slow movement flowed naturally (but was intruded upon by a mobile phone ringing from within the orchestra!) whilst the finale had an unforced playfulness. There was too a luminous beauty to Pires’s sound, warm, and clear as a bell. This was a profoundly satisfying performance.

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Matthias CreutzigerThe ‘Romantic’ Symphony was billed with a description of almost Brucknerian amplitude and further expanded in the programme note: “That year (1880) also saw the successful Viennese premiere under Hans Richter. In 1886 Bruckner made a number of relatively minor modifications for a New York performance conducted by Anton Seidl. It is Nowak’s publication of this version that Bernard Haitink has chosen to perform.” Haitink’s reputation as a custodian of Bruckner is second to none. He undoubtedly gets the whole picture – tempo relationships work, movements hang together, and the sound and balances are echt. Ironically though, and allowing that LSO brass could be too loud, on this occasion it was individual moments of detail which registered with greatest force; seldom has one heard the violas’ long winding threnody in the slow movement played with greater eloquence, or the scherzo’s floodgates finally open to greater effect.

In fact, for at least three quarters of its duration – the last three movements – this was an extremely fine performance, but some way short of a great one. The first movement in particular felt closely observed rather than fully experienced as though one were standing at a distance from the music. Bruckner may be serious business but there is also a gemütlich unaffectedly songful quality which only surfaced intermittently here. Treated with such beetle-browed reverence it was all-too reminiscent of those interminably austere church services of one’s youth. Seldom, even at moments as magical as the lead-in to the first movement’s coda, did one experience the frisson of homecoming or any surge of spontaneous affection. As a consequence – despite many fine individual contributions, notably David Pyatt’s enviably secure horn-playing and Edward Kay’s plangent oboe solos – it felt like a long listen, Bruckner heard in an unadorned church in Delft rather than the Baroque splendour of St Florian.

  • Concert played again on Thursday 16 June and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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