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Bernard Haitink [Photo by Clive Barda]
02 Mar 2016

A trip with Captain Haitink into Bruckner’s Cosmos

Last year for his 60th anniversary as conductor, Bernard Haitink celebrated with one of his first orchestra’s the Dutch Radio Philharmonic. That performance of Mahler’s Fourth turned out such a success, he returned for another round at the NTR Saturday Matinee at the Concertgebouw.

A trip with Captain Haitink into Bruckner’s Cosmos

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Bernard Haitink [Photo by Clive Barda]


This time, he led another first-class performance in Bruckner’s Te Deum in C Major with the Groot Omroep Choir and four excellent vocalists, followed by his Symphony No. 9 in D-minor. “To the beloved God” Bruckner dedicated his last symphony, and Haitink brought that cosmic love to light today.

Bruckner called his Te Deum the pride of his life. Haitink definitely did it justice in this performance. The conductor commenced “Te Deum laudamus” with the strings highly charged. Then the Groot Omroep Choir bellowed with a powerful grandeur. Underneath all this force, the magnificent Maarschalkerweerd Organ, the centre piece in the Great Hall, reverberated heavily reaching all the way to the balcony. What a spectacular opening!

Beginning with the strings’ crisp transparency and electrifying intensity, Haitink immediately anchored his trademark tension that he sustained throughout each movement. The brass, especially the trombones players, must also be noted for glowing sound resonating soulfully in their passages throughout the performance.

Of the vocalists, Sally Matthews impressed most. From her first passages in the opening to finale, her rich vibrato and powerful volume fought off the most intense of Bruckner’s fortissimos. In the quieter passages, where the suspense thickened, Matthews charged her voice with a subtle intensity that enriched Haitink’s tension.

Mark Padmore applied a solemnity to his voice, particularly in the second movement. There, in a wonderful duet with the concertmaster, he sung with clear diction and darkened colours, although his voice did not match up to Matthews’ intensity. In the third movement, the strings throbbed energetically in the low registers, and here the choir delivered vocal purity in the mighty “In Gloria”. This Dutch choir impresses with the seeming ease, with which it moves from crystalline fortissimos to simmering pianissimo.

Gerd Grochowski had his moment in the middle of the fourth movement where his deeply resonant bass created a haunting atmosphere with the choir. In the last movement, as the vocalists sing together “In Te, Domine speravi”, Karen Cargill emerged with her voice noticeably adding a deeper dimension to the quartet. With her darker contrasts she especially complimented Matthews.

During “In excelsis” Haitink conducted at his most expressive, raising his hands high up. As a result, the climax became a physical experience. With all this power, it almost felt as if the Concertgebouw was going lift off and ascend…producing plenty of goosebumps. Bruckner called his Te Deum the pride of his life. Haitink definitely did it justice with this performance.

Before the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra made Bernard Haitink famous in the 1960s, he was violinist and later Principal Conductor of the Dutch Radio Philharmonic. This afternoon with Bruckner’s Ninth, he continued their successful collaboration. The composer’s last symphony was left incomplete after his death, lacking a fourth movement. Still, the symphony is over an hour long, but with Haitink the piece flew by.

The conductor established a similar intensity but perhaps even stronger in underlying suspense. From the slow-burning opening, Feierlich, misterioso, he kept the strings highly charged. The highlight of the evening, in the the second movement the Scherzo-Trio Haitink nearly bruised his audience with the intensity of the Scherzo. The pizzicato strings opens, but then timpani and brass explode. Another visceral sensation! A youthful oboe solo softened the tone in between heavy beats. Haitink made for a very fast paced Trio, that surprised by its nervously adolescent, romantic mood.

For the final Adagio, it felt very much like an ode to Wagner—the most suspenseful slow passages in the strings, dripping with longing, almost sensually. The brasses resonated with a golden glow, full of promise. The flautist held her own during her solo against the high strings and the brooding basses. With the calm ending and tapering down of the intensity, still highly romantic, we returned from our trip up in Te Deum. With Haitink as our venerable Captain into Bruckner’s cosmos.

David Pinedo

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