Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Haitink's variable Bruckner.
on 10 August 2012
Although Haitink is undoubtedly one of todays most distinguished conductors with long experience in conducting Bruckner with the worlds finest orchestras, for me there is ultimately a sense of his performances, from Beethoven and Bruckner to Mahler and Shostakovich, never quite realizing a true greatness. I know this term is over used, and in a certain sense inaccurate, perhaps a better term would be overall integrity and interpretive honesty, but for now 'greatest' seems fitting, and it certainly registers a recognised semantic charge. To put it rather crudely Haitink 'should' be a 'great' conductor. He certainly has intergrity, and a kind of subjective modesty in concert, with a clear, economic conducting technique in the gestural sense, never any hint of audience pleasing histrionics, sensationalism,or conductorial narcissism. So what is lacking? For me Haitink's predilection for a certain restraint, which can add to a performance of say a Mahler symphony, which unfortuanately often attract conductorial distortion and indulgence. Toscanini often demanded more 'fire', more drama either in rehearsal or in actual performance. And I find this 'fire', dramatic commitment, to be largely lacking in Haitink's conducting.Perhaps too much restraint, too much toning down of a climax say, can be as debilitating as too much interventional excess; distorted dynamics etc. Especially in Bruckner.
This latest Haitink Bruckner five with the superb Bavarian Radio orchestra, very much encapsulates Haitinks strengths and weaknesses. After an ethereal opening adagio the build up to the main allegro is excellently timed, but it needes to be more sharply contoured with more accented brass and timpani. I wasn't overwhelmed in the way I am overwhemled by Gunter Wand, or Hans Rosbaud here. The second subject string melody over pizzicato chords was quite well paced, although there was a slight tendency to to let the pizzicato rhythmic figure sag. The development section here is one of Bruckner's most adavanced, complex and extended. After some contrasting variations based on the opening chorale motive the development takes on the form expansive harmonic blocks which encompass tonalities as remote as D minor, C sharp minor and A major. This magisterial sequence was all well played and paced but I just didn't hear the dramatic transpositions and contrasts, heard with the above mentioned conductors, and more recently in Harnoncourt's superb performance with the Vienna Philharmonic. Likewise the coda to the first movement failed to register any sense of intense expectaion, with rather sluggish rhythms.
The D minor second movement Adagio is undoubtedly the most successful feature of this performance. Haitink realises well that although the tempo marking is Adagio - Sehr langsam ( very slow)the underlying 4 in a bar pulse, initially stated on oboe in juxtaposition with the opening pizzicato triplets - a kind of dual pulse - indicating a noble breadth, but also movement; Bruckner's oft mentioned 'Bewegt'.
The penultimate sequence of this variation movement, before the closing chorale climax led by brass, with elaborately harmonised leaps of a seventh from the opening theme was particularly well contoured and paced by Haitink. The chains of rich counterpoint and dissonance, suggesting the sound of an organ' were most perceptively realized. The descending figure in violins and violas, a quotation from the 'Lacrimosa' from Mozart's Requiem, were beautifully incorporated with a sublime clarity and poignancy.
The D minor Scherzo, with its thematic links to the Adagio, starts in the style of a landler. But as it develops with a kind of double theme juxtaposing the landler rhythm we are cast into darker regions with sharp brass counterpoint, cross-rhythms and shifts in a contrasting tonal range from major to minor. Indeed the movement has about it something of the Walpurgis-Nacht, somthing unsettling, as though Mephistopheles is never far away. Here, and despite predictably good playing, Haitink simply sounds too ponderous, too lumpy. To hear how these staggering, menacing cross - rhythms can sound (ought to sound) listen to the recent recording with Herbert Blomstedt and the equally impressive Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. With Blomstsdt we hear wonderfully incisive and diverse rythmic articulation. With Haitink we hear rather heavy and ponderous rhythmic articulation. There is a mono recording (live) of Haitink's predecessor at the Concertgebouw,Eduard van Beinum, what a difference! With van Beinum and Blomstsdt, in their different ways, we are plunged into the kaleidoscopic vortex of this incredible music. With Haitink we lose track,attention, as though it was rehearsal run-through!
Haitink has a reputation for holding a symphonic structure together. After being disappointed by the Scherzo I was at least expecting a reading of the monumental finale which was structurally coherent, in the way we always axpected and got from a great Bruckner conductor like Dr Klemperer. But, alas, this performance failed to deliver this essential structural, tonal coherence. It all started quite well with the quotes from the previous movements, a reference from Beethoven's model in his Ninth Symphony. But by the time we reach the great fugal sequences - a complex four part fugue - followed by a massive tutti double-fugue traversing tonal variations in F major and G flat and leading to the initiation of the themes which form the huge peroration of the coda, there was a general lack of structual coherence. The symphonic narrative failing to hold together. The fugal sequences are interpolated by a lyrical complex of themes, but increasingly by energetic leaps of an octave, a fifth and a fourth ( the basic intervals favoured by Bruckner )These sequences provide the thrust which subtends the movement, rigorously interrlated with the fugal episodes. But here Haitink seemed unable to register any sense of thrust,of pressing forward. It all sounded rather static and ponderous. Also, from the initiation of the fugal sequences, I wanted to hear a more clear and focused deliniation of the various contrupuntal strands. At times this performance sounded more like a great wash of sound. The great final, when it did come 'the crowning glory of the symphony'- lacked any sense of expectation, no sense of evolving from a vast symphonic narrative, of being unleashed. In itself it was compellingly played, but it lacked that essential tone of long symphonic progression to a staggering coda. This was exacerbated by a kind of toning down of the very last chords as though an element of embarrassment had crept into Haitink's interpretational psyche. This of all symphonic codas!
Those looking for a more didstinctive version of this fascinating symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra would do well to invest in the recent Maazel 'live' recording, like the CD under review also on the orchestra's own label. Maazel's Bruckner 5 is not without its problems. But it is a performance with far more conviction, symphonic unity and thrust. The only problem here is that it is only available as part of complete set of the Bruckner symphonies. But if this is a put off look no further than the Blomstsedt or Harnoncourt, both mentioned above, and both from 'live' concerts.
This latest 'live' Bruckner 5