on 25 November 2011
Brahms is a composer who asks for interpreters are willing to go far beyond the written notes, and into a world of dark beauty that's always personal. But there's always the temptation to get too caught up in the roughness and fate that can be present in his music. That's not to say that those elements don't exist. Rather, they need to be kept in proper balance, and they should never be emphasized to the point where one misses the Brahms that tugs at your inner being. That's true even in the 1st symphony, where Brahms is still young and full of fiery passion and determination.
How does Haitink do in giving us Brahms that sees the whole picture? Well, he certainly does a fine job, and he has one of the greatest of orchestras to help him out. At the same time, I don't sense anything in his interpretation that is remarkable or novel. It's all played very well, but could we ask for more than good playing? That's not to say that Haitink merely runs through the work. He does know how to deliver strong orchestral playing that is saturated in power. Perhaps my complaint is that he is too rough, unable to ever surround me with heartbreaking beauty. And while the LSO is a great orchestra, it doesn't come close to rivaling the sound that the Berlin Philharmonic can give this music. I can't help but compare this to Rattle's recent recording of this symphony with his Berliners. Not only does Rattle succeed in delivering more excitement and a far bigger sound, but he's inwardly touching, allowing the beauty of the music to flow out in a way that is deeply moving. And while Haitink maintains interest, he simply isn't on the same level.
To summarize, this is a fine reading, even if it doesn't say anything out of the ordinary. Those wanting a solid, interesting reading of this symphony won't be disappointed, although you can certainly do better elsewhere.