Royal College of Music – Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler 7

Symphony No.7

Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 June, 2014
Venue: Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Todd RosenbergIn an age polluted by noise and obsessed with celebrity (god knows why), Bernard Haitink – a total musician – can be relied upon for discrimination and long-term values, even in Mahler. And saturated as we are with this composer’s music, the Seventh Symphony remains something of a ‘Cinderella’ in his output.

Returning to the Royal College of Music, where his visits have become standout dates in its calendar (both of these Mahler 7 evenings sold out), from the off Haitink was enjoying the students’ confidence and commitment and he in turn conducted with clarity and authority, fashioning fastidious balances, dynamics and inputs; and, for the most part, judicious tempos and relationships. The opening of the Symphony promised much and also gifted a sense of journey. The tricky tenor horn solo (and for once it was this instrument, it’s more often an euphonium) was superbly brought off by Rory Cartmell, and the movement as a whole embraced heroic swagger, forest legend and rapturous expression, all-in-one thanks to Haitink’s wholeness of approach. He then kept the second movement (‘Nachtmusik I’) on the move with nocturnal tread, lovely expressive curves and bewitching details.

If, at various points, and however talented the crew of the RCMSO, there were a few bloopers in the playing, this was countered by the high level of preparation and Haitink’s certainty of approach, but his reading of the spooky scherzo that forms the Symphony’s central movement was curiously under-tempo, far too waltzy and lacking the macabre presence of hobgoblins. Such a dogged approach suggested the music being analysed on the spot by Sigmund Freud, but a more down to earth suggestion is that the conductor was accommodating his charges if only reducing the voltage of what Mahler intended. Following this is the serenade that is ‘Nachtmusik II’, with added guitar and mandolin. This was beautifully done, dulcetly sounded and full of heart’s delight before the festive finale burst in with Richard Cartlidge’s enlivening timpani tattoo. As for the first movement, Haitink took it ‘in one’ but without denuding its carnival atmosphere and elements of song and dance, the latter nudged into place with affection, and all elements then leading to the final apotheosis and joyous release.

Whenever Bernard Haitink conducts the RCM Symphony Orchestra one is aware of the expert tutelage that has anticipated the conductor’s arrival and that he himself is there for the music and nothing else, save for the exhilaration of sharing his experience with his young and gifted players, and receiving their disciplined and unsullied responses, something that is also a privilege for us.

  • The second performance on Tuesday 17 June will be “streamed live” on the link below

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