tue 21/09/2021

Haitink, LSO, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Haitink, LSO, Barbican

Haitink, LSO, Barbican

Boring Bernard is back

Over the past few years, Haitink’s London performances - and last night's was no different - have slowly but consistently chipped away at the conventional wisdom that conductors mature with age and reach an apex of musical understanding some two hours before they die. Some conductors, obviously, just go mouldy, like milk.
But Haitink goads not only one's understanding of conventional wisdom but also one’s moral fibre. It's hard to go against one's instinctive deference to one’s elders and betters. If any other 80-year-old had jumped on stage last night and provided the performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony that Haitink had, I’d have been pretty impressed. But Bernard isn't an ordinary 80-year-old. He’s an honorary knight and a musical giant and, I’m sorry if this sounds a bit demanding, but I’d quite like him to conduct like an honorary knight and musical giant, too.
That means making a part of me feel some emotions. The only thing I felt during the Schubert Eight was my dinner journeying through my body. There are moments in that symphony that, under the right conductor, could have not only have made me forget about my viscera but might have punched a hole through them. Not Haitink.
A kind assessment of what the great man was doing might have been to describe it as a “classical” approach. Things moved along at quite a clip – the slow movement ran faster than the fast movement - the phrasing was neat and light and the sound was anything but homogenous. But reminding the audience the connection Schubert had with his predecessors is no excuse for the chronic lack of narrative drive that pervaded this rendition.
Sure, there was a sweetness of tone to the cellos and some nice pianissimos but this was a performance that lived for each individual event, delivering an impeccably tasteful series of sounds, none of which really added up to much of any note.
Das Lied von der Erde was better. Much better. There was a lovely searching quality to the way the music moved and the characterful sonic events, this time, made much more linear sense. Sadly, tenor Robert Gambill was indisposed and his replacement, Anthony Dean Griffey, did well simply to remain on top of his part, particularly in the first movement, which is hairy at the best of times. Beyond this, it would be churlish to grumble too much about his performance (surely there cannot be a more daunting role to fill last minute), suffice to say that what it lacked in technical assurance it made up for in gall and guts.
Christianne Stotijn was quite the opposite: so assured as to be almost detached. Still, her instrument is a fine one, and her musical manner and emotional steering were quietly confident and ultimately compelling. The control that took hold of her and the flautist Gareth Davies as they traversed that great flat musical expanse at the beginning of the final movement was breathtaking. I look forward to her debut in Tamerlano at Covent Garden next year.
A repeat performance of this programme will be given on Tuesday. Haitink conducts Mahler's Fourth Symphony on Sunday.

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