RCM/Haitink Bruckner

Te Deum
Symphony No.9 in D minor

Anna Leese (soprano)
Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano)
Andrew Staples (tenor)
Håkan Ekenäs (bass)

RCM Chorus

RCM Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 14 October, 2005
Venue: Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

It has become something of an annual fixture for Bernard Haitink to spend a week at the Royal College of Music culminating in two concerts at the end of the week. Mahler 6 was the work in February 2003, Mahler 2 in October 2004 and this year the focus was on Bruckner.

We are getting used to small concert halls, with the South Bank’s switch of focus to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but nothing prepared me for the physical as well as the aural force that hit the audience at the opening of Bruckner’s “Te Deum”: we were quite literally blown away. The unison string phrases at the opening, rising and falling organically suddenly reminded me of Janáček – a connection that hitherto had never occurred to me.

Haitink’s soloists, all from the college’s Benjamin Britten International Opera School, were well matched, if Andrew Staples’s tenor took a few bars to settle and was the most prominent of the four. Soprano Anna Leese was back after her performance of Mahler 2 with Haitink last year. The massive chorus was extremely well drilled, as you would expect with Terry Edwards as chorus master, and even in the sheer body of sound in such a small space, there was a certain clarity of parts that was great to hear.

After the interval, with the choir dispersed, the orchestra played Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. A tiny few glitches at the start of the scherzo aside – a miss-pitched pizzicato and a muffed horn entry – this was a glorious performance; full in sound, but again admirably clear in its separate parts.

The warm glow of the Wagner Tubas, the fantastic sheen of the strings and the plaintive nature of the winds all came together in a monumental performance of this orchestral triptych. From the massive chords to which both the first and third (last) movements build, to the incessant rhythm of the scherzo, this dug deep to the heart of the piece. As the craggy nature of the slow movement dissolved into the gently consoling final bars – as fitting end that makes one thankful Bruckner never did complete a finale – not for the first time in this performance did I feel goose pimples.

If only all performances could be so moving.

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