RCM/Haitink – Bruckner 7

Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak Edition]

RCM Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 December, 2006
Venue: Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

The ideal Christmas present for this writer would be a CD of this magnificent performance. (It was recorded!) Bernard Haitink is a regular guest at the Royal College of Music and has conducted Mahler and Shostakovich there; Bruckner, too, and this account of the Seventh Symphony (the second of two) compelled attention from beginning to end.

Haitink, genial and authoritative, led a lyrical and flowing account, the opening measures not singled out as a ‘slow introduction’ and the first movement had a wholeness of continuity yet also an ebb and flow that satisfied ‘episodes’ while sustaining a glorious sweep, the RCM Symphony’s 60-plus strings playing with power and lustre, and with sweet tone in the more intimate passages. There was no lack of dynamic variety and it could be argued that the fullest fortissimos were just a little too loud – as much to do with the Concert Hall’s very immediate acoustic as any misjudgement. Indeed, the playing was unforced, vividly detailed, and dedicated.

After a refulgent first movement, Haitink could usefully have taken a little more time with the opening measures of the Adagio; this was non-indulgent to a fault if shaped to a nicety, the blissful ‘moderato’ section introducing yet more forward-motion while retaining an impeccable shape and line. The cymbal-capped climax (denoting Leopold Nowak’s edition, Robert Haas eschews the ‘controversial’ added-by-another percussion – Nowak wasn’t listed nor this point discussed in the programme notes) was tremendous in impact and perfectly terraced. For this movement, Haitink had the tuba player move to sit with his ‘Wagner’ cousins and the five musicians made a baleful threnody as the Adagio moved to its conclusion; it was at this point that news of Wagner’s death reach Bruckner, an idol.

Under Haitink, the scherzo was superbly propulsive and questing, the trio a beatific response, and the finale had fleetness and grandeur, not least two-thirds through when Haitink conjured a majestic brass-led summation – yet still had something in reserve for the coda. A long, enthusiastic reception ensued from the capacity house – the applause modestly received by Haitink and warmly shared with the young musicians.

In sum, a special performance, one prepared by distinguished professors (some from the LSO), the orchestra led by Alina Ibragimova, herself building a fine career as a soloist. The RCM Symphony’s playing was quite superb with some excellent wind solos (flute and trumpet in particular) and, indeed, the numerous accident-prone spots that this symphony can yield were all negotiated with confidence and skill.

There’s been no shortage of opportunities to hear Haitink conduct Bruckner 7 in London over the last few decades (at least four times at the Proms alone), but this RCM one stood out, 65 minutes of rapt music-making that spoke volumes (no pun intended!) about what the RCM Symphony Orchestra is capable of.

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