BBC Music Magazine

From the archives

Andrew Mcgregor revisits Haitink’s Bruckner and Mahler cycles in the most vivid remasterin­g ever


It’s easy to forget what landmarks these two Haitink sets were half a century ago (Mahler: Decca 483 4643; 12 CDS + Blu-ray Audio. Bruckner: 483 4660; 10 CDS + Blu-ray Audio). The idea of one conductor and orchestra recording these cycles in the same hall was new. Despite the hiss, the remasterin­g brings us closer to the original tapes than ever before.

Mahler 1 came first in 1962. It’s not the best place to start: passive and uninvolvin­g (the 1972 remake included on the Bluray is better), with a fierce shine to the strings and not much bass. But the Concertgeb­ouw Orchestra’s sound is fascinatin­g: reedy oboe, brass vibrato (as in the trombone solo in Mahler 3), string vibrato applied with more variation than the modern RCO. Even 15 years later in the last of the Mahler recordings there’s similar character, but by now the engineers have become better at capturing the acoustic, and the sound has more depth and bloom. It’s a mixed cycle: 1 and 8 just don’t come off, but the classical poise of the Fourth is better judged, and the Seventh and Ninth are highlights, unerringly paced and with an intensity sometimes missing elsewhere. Fans of Bernstein and Tennstedt’s histrionic­s could learn much from Haitink’s symphonic instincts and relative restraint. Das Lied with Janet Baker is a legendary account for a reason; Jessye Norman in the Wunderhorn Songs is sheer luxury.

Haitink’s Bruckner is more consistent­ly well-judged, his instincts miraculous­ly aligned with the composer’s breadth and nobility. He has an uncanny ability to begin a Bruckner Symphony with the end already in sight; tempos and transition­s are usually beautifull­y judged, and there’s an inevitabil­ity that’s profoundly satisfying.

The Third was recorded first in 1963 and has the driest sound.

The Fourth was next (better), then the Ninth, delivered with exalted conviction, the equal performanc­e-wise of any in the catalogue. Bruckner 5 reaches similar ecstatic heights; only the Eighth for me is misjudged, momentum sacrificed for sheer speed. Good to Have Bruckner ‘0’ as well; Haitink makes an excellent case for it. violins and harrumphin­g brass all register vividly in the ‘strife and wars’ section, without becoming bombastic. The horn solo in the canto populare is gorgeously dreamy, while the coda is refulgentl­y warm and generous. This is one of the most attractive, personable versions of In the South currently on offer.

Much the same can be said of Petrenko’s Enigma Variations. The opening theme and first variation are again striking in their textural clarity, with woodwind detail emerging felicitous­ly. It’s striking how tenderly affectiona­te each portrait is, as Petrenko paints it. ‘R.B.T.’S penchant for amateur dramatics is playfully mimicked but not caricature­d, in ‘Ysobel’ one senses the patient sensitivit­y of the teacher for his viola student, and even ‘W.M.B’ is less indiscrimi­nately blustering than usual. ‘Nimrod’ flows naturally forward, and is entirely free of the self-conscious sentimenta­lity which sometimes sinks it, while the concluding

‘E.D.U.’ is resplenden­tly delivered by the excellent Liverpool players.

Add a tender, subtly expressive account of the Serenade for Strings and outstandin­g recorded sound, and you have an Elgar disc which ranks among the most edifying and enjoyable of recent years. Terry Blain PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★

 ??  ?? Miraculous­ly attuned; Bernard Haitink shone particular­ly in Bruckner
Miraculous­ly attuned; Bernard Haitink shone particular­ly in Bruckner
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