Collectors of long standing may harbor a sense that Haitink's Bruckner is too plain, as evidenced by the symphony cycle he made decades ago with the royal concertgebouw. But since then he has grown, and the concert recordings over the past decade, either from Dresden or Amsterdam, have been magisterial. Age has made his energy level variable, however, and I felt that the Bruckner Fourth that preceded this Ninth on LSO Live was underwhelming. There is a special bond between him and the orchestra, so I had higher hopes for the new release.
It begins a bit staid and slack, I'm sorry to say, and one has to adjust, as the first movement unfolds, to Haitink's measured pace, which leaves room for loving phrases and the building of beautiful sounds rather than dramatic tension or momentum. It's no great fault if Bruckner seems to stand still in time (Celibidache made it his mission to prove that), and Giulini was revered for his similar Ninth from Vienna on DG. At an overall timing of 27:31, be prepared for stateliness. The Scherzo is paced a fraction slow, but that's not as significant as a certain rhythmic dullness that seems to continue the slog of the first movement. Only in the finale does the rapport between the musicians and a beloved maestro make a real impression as each phrase is caressed. stasis here feels like transcendence.
Throughout the recorded sound is fine - I've never been a complainer about the sonics that LSO Live achieves in the Barbican - and its clarity reveals many beautiful details. Overall, however, I found Haitink to be underwhelming once again, which is bad luck for the orchestra. It will hardly be credited in some circles, but I recall a broadcast Bruckner Ninth under Gergiev that was far better than this one.