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Performances

Bernard Haitink [Photo by Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival]
22 Aug 2016

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Bernard Haitink [Photo by Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival]

 

So it was with great expectations that I came to hear him perform with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and its assembly of superb musicians. However, after tonight’s performance it became clear, that the octogenarian conductor has lost much of his vigor and grip. Haitink’s masterful technique to sustaining suspense from beginning to end lacked, resulting in more than a few moments of monotony. Still, this is Bernard Haitink! So even if he is not performing as he used to, he is still more awesome than most conductors. The performance included several exhilarating, hair raising passages.

In the opening Allegro moderato, Haitink generated a thick, rich sound from the strings that he never let go. Lucas Macias Navarro (Assistant Conductor, Orchestre de Paris), a former soloist at the Royal Concertgebouw, where he has performed under Haitink, made his oboe passages sound ever so delicate against the backdrop of this lush texture.

In between Bruckner’s lengthy movements, Haitink was able to take a moment on the chair behind him to regenerate. The Scherzo was full of buoyant optimism. The flute solos by Chiara Tonelli (from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra) enjoyed vibrancy. Raymond Curfs (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) made his timpani roar, though Haitink made sure never too loudly. In the Trio, the Dutch conductor, and longtime citizen of Lucerne, kept a steady tension going.The elegance of the dreamy harp (a rare usage by Bruckner) contrasted sharply with the horns and trumpets. Slowly and deliberately with minimal direction, Haitink brought to life Bruckner’s heft.

In the third movement, the symphony lost its intensity. Haitink used to be a master at Bruckner’s and Mahler’s Feierlich passages. He would generate and sustain a slow burning suspense throughout an entire symphony, but here is grip was missing. The person next to me let out a deep, seemingly impatient, sigh--the third movement did feel a bit tiresome. On the other hand, the chemistry between oboist and flautist produced playful contrasts in their duets.

The energetic surge at the beginning of the final movement woke up the audience again. Thrillingly bellicose sounded the triumphing Brass. The Wagner tubas added to their glow. The dark timbres of the bassoons offered their distinct shades. Haitink’s minimal conducting here generated an awesome intensity that made for a stupendous finale. He intended to elongate the delicate tension after the last note of the symphony, but an eager audience broke the silence too soon and erupted in a feverish ovation.

David Pinedo

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