Staatskapelle Dresden 1

Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Symphony No.7 in E

Staatskapelle Dresden
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 3 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the oldest orchestras having been founded in 1548. With Bernard Haitink, 75 this year, and Dresden’s chief conductor since 2002, the combination of Mozart and Bruckner should have proved irresistible. However, things were below par, although even playing a couple of notches under its best, Dresden remains a force to be reckoned with. Intuitively and effortlessly the Staatskapelle’s musicians conjure the right sound for Bruckner: golden strings, mellow blended brass and characterful, somewhat old-world woodwind; it would be unwise for any conductor to tamper with this collective vision. Haitink knows this.

The Bruckner, some minor imprecision aside, enjoyed magnificent playing by an orchestra inhabiting this repertoire. The first and second movements unfolding effortlessly under Haitink’s secure direction, each paragraph eliding seamlessly into the next, and the contrasting speeds for the slow movement’s alternating sections were cannily chosen. Glorious though it was to hear Bruckner-playing of this stylistic rightness – maybe Bruckner’s ghost was looking down approvingly from the Albert Hall’s organ loft where he once gave recitals – the earth did not move musically, the climax of the slow movement (with the spurious cymbal crash) registering less than 10 on the Richter scale, possibly as a result of Haitink’s care and respect for the music, which can be strangely inhibiting, static rather than grandly expansive. Bruckner’s finale (I write as a fully paid-up Brucknerian) poses doubts too, seeming an unequal pendant to the magnificence of the first two movements and a less than satisfactory culmination.

In the Mozart there was the distinct feeling of an orchestra on auto-pilot, not that Haitink for all his care and honesty is the most natural of Mozart conductors. All repeats with the exception of the finale’s second half were taken and there were some fine things, not least the strings’ phrasing of the slow movement’s problematic opening. The outer movements seemed laboured; it was not to do with the unexceptional tempos, more a lack of bounce and energy in the rhythms.

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