The evening opened with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Although I had hoped to be swept off my feet by the flight in Schubert’s melodies,
Haitink’s determined and deliberate style instead brought all the layers in the work constructing an extraordinary, sonorous depth. He produced such
captivating intensity, the concertmaster and his Berliner musicians were riffing like rock stars.
Haitink is still one of the best out there, but his fragility has given his recent performances more transparency exposing precious new details, rather
than producing a sweeping, cohesive momentum. Part of me misses his former command and energy.
I marvelled at the synergy. Several times, the seated Haitink’s mere presence with his most subtle of directions clearly inspired the Berliners. His
deliberate, succinct conducting created a rich tapestry of Schubert’s wonderful melodies as the BPO performed with utmost dedication to their Maestro.
While at first I thought it seemed a bit slow, in the end the simmering build up paid off with a sublime climax.
With the same attention to detail and deliberate tempi, Haitink led the BPO that performed Mahler with a zealous commitment. His age showing a bit as he
conducted from a seated position. The orchestra, sharply in tune with his minimal conducting, thrilled in Mahler’s temperaments. The piccolo at the end of
“Von der Jugend” or the triangle in “Von der Schönheit” popped with great effect. How impressive Haitink generated such superlative sound with such little
I have to confess, I was not aware that Mahler had orchestrated his closest work to opera with the option of a baritone instead of alto. A very tricky
endeavour especially during “Der Abschied”. There aren’t many men that can pull it off. Tonight Gerhaher certainly demonstrated the virtues of this format
as he realised a profoundly human character. His gravitas and richly nuanced phrasing gave it a deep melancholy. Gerhaher generated a very dour ambience,
missing the lighter nuances. This last movement felt earthly, anchored in human sorrow. For all of Gerhaher’s qualities, he inhibited the fragile ascension
into Mahler’s elevating catharsis. I prefer the softness of a female voice in this particularly ameliorating role.
Christian Elsner filled the tenor role with a particular Bohemian charm. With closed eyes, visibly moved by the Berliner’s music and Gerhaher’s soulful
tone, he would sway back and forth with closed eyes. The longer Elsner’s seeming theatricality continued, the more I realised he was being authentic. As
the drunk in love in the “Der Trunkene im Frühling”, he particularly impressed. Gerhaher’s almost bleak concentration during Elsner’s singing formed a
striking contrast to Elsner’s obvious appreciation.
When returning for the applause, instead of walking directly to the front Haitink walked up the stairs to the musicians (as he would at the Concertgebouw).
He demonstratively tapped his forehead with the palm of his hand and redirected himself to the podium. Where he deservedly but with his usual timidity
accepted the audience ovation. His fragility notwithstanding, this octogenarian certainly created a high point of the season.
Christian Elsner (tenor) Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Bernard Haitink (conductor), Berliner Philharmoniker.
7th October 2016. Berlin Philharmonie.