LSO/Haitink – Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony & Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde

Schubert
Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished)
Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde

Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) & Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor)

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 October, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Matthias CreutzigerAn apt pairing of symphonies (and “Das Lied von der Erde” is one), Bernard Haitink choosing tempos that judiciously mirrored the markings for the two (finished) movements of the Schubert – Allegro moderato and Andante con moto – the exposition having a few roughs moments in this performance that settled come the repeat, the cellos (led by Tim Hugh) playing the second subject with inward beauty, clarinets as equal partners, but the mundane, over-bearing timpani-playing dominated unduly. The development caught fire with sinister undertones (shame about the high-pitched whistle from somewhere) and a quietly ecstatic coda led into a flowing, serenade-like view of the second movement that remained alive to the music’s emotional outbursts and searching-beyond, Christopher Richards’s clarinet solos, and those from oboist Emanuel Abbühl, shining out.

Mahler completed “Das Lied von der Erde” between his Eighth and Ninth symphonies. Haitink and the LSO (just as they had achieved at the BBC Proms a couple of months ago with No.9) conjured a remarkably compelling account, one notable for revealing the lucidity of the orchestration in a performance abounding in detail and subtlety. As he had done two nights earlier, Anthony Dean Griffey replaced Robert Gambill (throat infection); his light, elegant tenor suited the third and fifth songs well enough, but he was rather lightweight in the opening setting (‘Drinking Song of the Earth’s Misery’), overly-compassionate (and with the occasional hiatus) if perhaps in-keeping with Haitink’s rather laboured conducting of it, but even here the conductor’s attention to detail was gratifying.

Christianne Stotijn. ©Marco BorggreveChristianne Stotijn inhabited every word and note. Having perhaps compromised the bitterness of the first song, Haitink might have allowed a little more time for ‘The Lonely One in Autumn’ in order to underline the solitariness of the situation. Yet miscalculations were few, perhaps the most notable being when describing the horse’s charging and trampling in the fourth setting (‘Beauty’) in which Haitink played-down the raucous, circus-like aspects, even the wit, yet how deft the playing was (even if the mandolin was inaudible), all-in-keeping with the conductor’s microscopically analysed yet living and breathing conception.

It was however in the final movement (‘Der Abschied’; The Farewell) that this performance became truly extraordinary. Here Haitink’s concern that every note and marking should mean something took the listener to the edge; here was something Expressionist, gradually disconnecting from the world, called to somewhere afar by Gareth Davies’s unearthly-sounding flute solos, a presaging (in wholly different musical terms) of the soon-to-exist “Erwartung” (Schoenberg) and a luxuriant glancing-back to the ‘Liebestod’ (Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”), Stotijn statuesque yet penetrating (young-voiced and poignant), fading the image, and perfectly judging (to near-inaudibility) her heartfelt utterances of “ewig” (forever), the celesta gleaming and, before this, the mandolin (now in solo terms) adding Venetian figuration. The whole movement had been unnerving, bordering on madness, quite capable of unbalancing the mind. That’s how it seemed.

Two nights previously, complaints of too-much coughing had been circulated; on this occasion the audience was spellbound; fortunately this interruption-nearly-free account was the one taken by the BBC, and good news that LSO Live has a release in mind. Whether the performance transfers to home-listening is another matter; but as concerts go, this was an astonishing experience, the ‘Farewell’ musically revealing and emotionally disorientating.

  • Concert previously played on 11 October
  • On Saturday 17 October at 7.30 p.m. Bernard Haitink conducts the LSO in Schubert (Symphony 5) and Mahler (Symphony 4)
  • LSO
  • Barbican
  • LSO concert of 13 October recorded by BBC Radio 3 (for broadcast probably on 27 October at 7 p.m.)

  • Haitink on Mahler
  • LSO/Haitink Mahler 9 Proms

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