Bernard Haitink Marks 50 Years at the Proms with Memorable Mahler

30/07/2016

Proms

Prom 18 – Mahler:  Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Tiffin Boys’ Choir, London Symphony Chorus (women’s voices), London Symphony Orchestra / Bernard Haitink. Royal Albert Hall, London, 29.7.2016. (CC)

Prom 18_CR BBC Chris Christodoulou_2

Bernard Haitink conducts the LSO at the Proms
(c) Chris Christodoulou

Mahler – Symphony No. 3 in D minor

It is a massive understatement to say that Bernard Haitink, 87 years young, needs no introduction to the Proms. His debut here was in 1966 (Bruckner Seventh). He has always been associated with Mahler and Bruckner (his Philips Concertgebouw Das Lied von der Erde with Janet Baker and James King remains an astonishing achievement), and just in terms of Mahler’s Third Symphony alone, he has significant history. He has conducted it previously at the Albert Hall in 1971, 1981 and 1999. Mahler symphonies do rather seem the perfect repertoire for the Albert Hall’s huge space – not just in heft, but in the use of gesture, particularly off-stage instruments (side-drum and posthorn – or rather, flugelhorn here). The hall was packed, as one might expect. (The later David Bowie Prom was presumably just as popular, making one hope for a spectacularly successful night for the Proms management).

The Third Symphony is a huge canvas, a great paean to Nature. Haitink is no Bernstein: it is against his nature to stop and look at every passing buttercup (or stop to wave at each passing marching band, for that matter). The grand plan is always at the back of his mind, the destination implicit from the off; the unison horn opening, massively confident, was nothing if not brisk, the tread firm and determined. Watching Haitink, what was striking was the economy of gesture; nothing wasted, everything to the point. Horns worked as one unit; the brass, too, played beautifully, not least the beautifully judged, strong solo from LSO principal trombonist Dudley Bright. Another vital aspect of Haitink’s reading was the underscoring of the forward-looking nature of Mahler’s writing: no one has reminded me more of an article I read many years ago as part of postgraduate study by Robert P. Morgan: Ives and Mahler: Mutual Responses at the end of an era (in 19th-Century Music, 2/1, 1978). The orchestral sound itself was wonderfully projected, with antiphonal violins, cellos in front of the conductor and double-basses at the back to his left.

The second movement (originally, “What the flowers of the meadow tell me”) was preternaturally gentle at its outset, sprightly later, Mahler’s scoring magically caught. It did bring up one element of Haitink’s reading that detracted from the full Mahler picture, though, in that grotesqueries were rather underplayed. Sarah Connolly, who had only a couple of days earlier sung Fricka in Die Walküre at Bayreuth under Marek Janowski, entered at this point, sitting stock still for the characterful third movement. Trumpets and clarinet seemed particularly attuned to Mahler’s world, while the off-stage “posthorn” flugelhornist Nicolas Betts, was nothing short of miraculous, his top notes crystal clear, every one hit bang in the middle. (Admittedly towards the very end of his contributions to the symphony there was the impression of the lip tiring).

The near-inaudibility of the lower strings at the start of the fourth movement, coupled with their control created the perfect backdrop for Connolly’s perfectly judged, plangent delivery of Mahler’s Nietzsche setting. Haitink underlined Mahler’s nightmarish scoring, while leader Carmine Lauri’s solo violin contributions were excellently judged. The performance created the perfect atmosphere. The sudden shift to the bright-toned angelic song of the fifth movement was like stepping into sunlight: here the Tiffin Boys’ Choir was on top form and the Women of the London Symphony Chorus exhibited perfect diction.

The expansive finale (“Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden”) was simply superb, hushed yet with momentum and blessed with a gorgeously warm string sound. The unfolding was very natural, brass-encrusted climaxes resonating deeply and a solo flute and clarinet offering real hope and consolation. True, some have plumbed yet deeper, but Haitink’s reading will surely remain a true highlight of the 2016 Proms.

Colin Clarke

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Spitalfields Music Festival 2017 in December __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere of The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu in December at Milton Court __________________________________
  • NEW! Hampstead Garden Opera Bring The Enchanted Pig to Highgate in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Svetlana Zakharova and Bolshoi Stars Bring Amore to the London Coliseum in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Tom Green and Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife Premieres on 15 October in Cardiff __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! I Musicanti’s ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ at St Johns Smith Square, 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • NEW! Birmingham and Beyond: Ex Cathedra in 2017/18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • NEW! The Generosity of Gwyneth Jones: Her Masterclass at the Royal College of Music __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • NEW! JUSTIN DOYLE DISCUSSES MONTEVERDI WITH MARK BERRY __________________________________
  • NEW! Katie Lowe Wins the 2017 Elizabeth Connell Prize __________________________________
  • NEW! ITINÉRAIRE BAROQUE 2017: TON KOOPMAN TALKS TO COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is Restored to its Former Glory __________________________________
  • NEW! iSING! – International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China __________________________________
  • NEW! A Riveting Kokoschka’s Doll from Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise __________________________________
  • NEW! ANGELA BROWNRIDGE IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H