Top critical review
11 people found this helpful
*** 1/2 Calm and controlled Bruckner with lovely sounds, but Haitink is too serious and straightfoward
on 14 February 2014
Bernard Haitink has a musical temperament that is easygoing and fairly relaxed, qualities that at a quick glance could seem detrimental in Bruckner. But his patience and ability to gently master long lines has enabled him to produce some great Bruckner recordings. He's been a bit variable, as it tends to go with older conductors, so one never knows when he will be inspired.
A quick listen to this new 9th on the LSO Live label reveals Haitink's ability to expertly voice and balance the orchestral sound. This is transparent Bruckner, far removed from the overwhelming sheen of sound produced by Karajan. Some audiophiles have found the sound from the LSO Live to be bad overall, but I find it to be clear and natural, if not aiming for extra impact. I have no problem praising the orchestral sound, even if it falls rather short of the impact of Rattle and the Berliners on EMI, a reading that is virtuosic enough to be enjoyed on that merit alone. All the same, Haitink's greatest gift is in the quiet passages, where he achieves a kind of religious hush.
But the drawback to this recording is that Haitink simply sounds a bit tired. I can admire his skill in careful phrasing, but ultimately this reading is underwhelming and rather staid. It's hard for an interpreter to be moving enough while being emotionally subdued. Haitink chooses slow tempos all throughout the symphony, which adds to a feeling of lethargy. It's a gift of Haitink's to be able to progress through the symphony while sustaining a definite control, but he never builds the intensity. I wish for fervency to truly ignite this symphony, make it the kind of wrenchingly emotional experience it is under a master like Karajan, or Harnoncourt in the modern era. As it is, Haitink strikes me as simply admiring the cathedral, wallowing in sound that truly is captivating, all while missing the potential for passion and even catharsis.
Haitink is best when the music is gentle and elegiac, in keeping with his temperament, which means that he is at his best in portions of the Adagio, and at his worst in the Scherzo, which feels heavy and buttoned-up. I'll confess I was disappointed by this reading, which would be a complete pass if it wasn't for the gorgeousness of the sound. In recognition of the playing and voicing, I'm adding half a star as a compromise