Haitink and the Bavarians – the Lucerne Easter Festival Comes to an End

SwitzerlandSwitzerland  Mozart, Bruckner: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor), Maria João Pires (piano), Kultur- und Kongresszentrum KKL, Lucerne, 1.4.2012 (JR)
: Piano Concerto No. 20 (K466)
: Symphony No. 4 (“Romantic”)

The Lucerne Easter Festival has just ended. There were – in the space of a week – several choral concerts (a B Minor Mass, the Haydn and Mozart Requiems and a Glagolitic Mass) and three symphony concerts, Schumann’s Second Symphony with Orchestra Mozart under Abbado, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons and the concert under review, Bernard Haitink in music he lives and breathes – Mozart and Bruckner

Maria João Pires and Bernard Haitink; photo credit: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival

The soloist in the Mozart was the diminutive Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires, who ushered in her first entry in predictably stylish and sensitive fashion. The Beethoven cadenza in the first movement packed a punch (Hummel, Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Brahms and Busoni were also impressed with this particular concerto and wrote cadenzas for it). All eyes and ears were on Pires throughout; one was too spellbound to notice the sensitive and light-textured Haitink’s accompaniment with the Munich orchestra. Soloist and conductor were always at one, constantly watching and attuned to each other to ensure entries were absolutely in sync; a delight to see and hear.

The opening of the ‘Romanze‘ second movement was elegant and genteel, the second agitated episode allowed Pires to produce veritable fireworks on the keyboard. The final rondo was suitably dramatic but never ferocious; Beethoven stole the show yet again in a second short cadenza, before Pires brought the work to its jubilant finish.

Haitink’s Bruckner is more than dependable, it sets the current standard; he remains the world’s foremost Bruckner interpreter. So it is sad to report that the performance fell somewhat short of expectations. Haitink was his usual muscular self, clenching his left fist when more power was required, and then amply delivered by the powerful orchestra. Haitink kept an admirably steady pulse, did not pull the tempi about, and built up the tension to each shattering climax. The ending to the first movement was particularly thrilling in its majesty.

The inner movements showed Haitink’s experience, the Scherzo having plenty of hunting chorus bounce; the Finale, which some find directionless, was persuasive and the final brass peroration quite splendid. What spoilt the performance however was a series of glitches, whether they were lip faults in the brass, or jagged entries, rough edges and a general lack of shaping which displayed a lack of rehearsal time. I suspect the orchestra was simply somewhat tired after three major concerts in a row, in very different music, with two very different conductors and the final performance suffered. A shame.

John Rhodes