LSO/Haitink Mahler 9

Symphony No.9

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 20 July, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Clive BardaA wonderful occasion, one enhanced by no applause between movements and an appreciative silence at the end of the work before a very enthusiastic reception broke out. Bernard Haitink, recently returned to activity after a two-month recuperation following an operation on his back, conducted an illuminating and engrossing account of Mahler’s last completed symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra responding with sensitivity, virtuosity and painstaking attention to inner detail.

Haitink (mostly standing and sometimes sitting) unfolded the opening movement (Andante comodo) on a generous scale, initially serene and accepting and then growing in optimism, a solemn processional looking deeply into the music’s emotional and intellectual possibilities, alive to sinister and mysterious aspects as well as ultimate catastrophe and decay – without losing the shape and direction of a movement that could be claimed as Mahler’s finest single achievement.

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Matthias CreutzigerThe middle movements were somewhat problematical. The Ländler second was busy, edgy and suitably rough-hewn (or as disruptive as this particular Dutchman is willing to be). Haitink relished the music’s lazy and slyly humorous twists, yet such deliberation seemed over-analysed (if fascinating) and the Boulezian clarity was often startling, as it was in ‘Rondo-Burleske’ in which there was a lack of danger but no shortage of mechanistic curtness and rhythmic acuity, the spiritual radiance of the central section especially touching.

The slow finale, like the first movement, was utterly compelling, given with a restraint and inwardness that were in themselves of infinite sadness and which made the flare-ups all the more telling. The closing bars, reduced to virtually nothing, held the capacity audience spellbound, which continued into Haitink’s ‘conducted’ silence, a fitting end to 90 minutes’ superb music-making during which a great symphony and the best-behaved communal listening came together in a very special way.

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