When Bernard Haitink became conductor of the (Royal) Concertgebouw
Orchestra, the record business was entering a new era, that
of the stereo LP which was much more attractive because of the
new realism it was providing. Ever since Eduard van Beinum switched
from Decca to Philips, the Concertgebouw Orchestra had replaced
the Residency Orchestra and its conductor Willem van Otterloo
and had become the principal orchestra for the Philips label
(Polygram) to make recordings with; along with the London Philharmonic.
When consulting the Discography of the Concertgebouw Orchestra
it is clear that a large catalog was being recorded in the nineteen
sixties en seventies. And most of the time it was with Bernard
Haitink conducting. He recorded Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Debussy,
Tchaikovsky, and the vast projects of the Symphonies of Gustav
Mahler and Anton Bruckner were undertaken. The position of Bernard
Haitink as principal conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra
was of a great significance and Haitink recorded with the orchestra
even after he had left.
The making of the many recordings, in addition to an intensive
directorship performing the programs for concert goers, took
time to be realized. Especially for the planned Mahler and Bruckner
cycles. If several symphonies were not yet recorded by Haitink,
Philips issued recordings with other conductors as a temporary
measure. That is why the Mahler 8th with Maurice Abravanel was
licensed from Vanguard as long as there was no Haitink performance
recorded. Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 performed by Vaclav Neumann
and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra were licensed from Eterna
(VEB Deutsche Schallplatten in the German Democratic Republic),
with which Philips did have a contract before Eurodisk did.
The performance by Wyn Morris of Symphony No. 10 (in the version
of Deryck Cooke) was recorded in Great Britain and also issued
on Philips. And there was a Bruckner No. 6 with the Gewandhaus
Orchestra conducted by Heinz Bongartz, again licensed from Eterna.
already in the beginning there were musicians who had ideas of
their own and some may have worked somewhat reluctantly with the
very young conductor. Although
the relationship seemed prosperous, in the end they made Haitink
leave the orchestra, in 1988. He settled in England. From there
he went to conduct other world-orchestras, with great success.
the nineteen sixties there also was the younger generation, rebelling
against the dusty establishment of conservatism as they saw it.
They formed the so called the Nutcracker group ("Aktie Notenkraker").
Many of those rebels have earned themselves recognition, and one
would expect them to recognize Haitink's qualities and achievements.
do. It is however pathetic that one of these rebels, Reinbert
de Leeuw who is a much appreciated performer himself (remember
his Satie, Liszt and Schoenberg), is rather limited in his appreciation
of other music styles than the ones he himself is interested in.
He still cannot recognize the importance of Haitink as a conductor,
he fails to appreciate what Haitink did for Dutch culture and
he does not recognize his international significance, as he told
in a recent newspaper interview.
have changed however and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has
changed too, not in discipline, not in tonality, not in balance
and skill. On the contrary. Now there are many young musicians
in all instrumental sections and the old core has left.
commemorate the 50th anniversary of 'laureate conductor' Haitink's
relationship with the orchestra, several concerts were planned.
Webern's Passacaglia, Songs by Strauss, and Mahler's 4th Symphony
were on the program of November 1, 2, 3 and 5.
'Das Lied von der Erde' with alto Anna Larsson and tenor Robert
Dean Smith, and again Mahler's Fourth with Christine Schäfer,
were scheduled for Tuesday November 7th, the actual date of Haitink's
50th anniversary. I was lucky enough to get a seat for this concert.
choice of soloists for 'Das Lied' was maybe not the luckiest,
as especially 'Der Abschied' needs a somewhat more mature personality
one would say, mentally and physically. It is not fair to make
comparisons, but a singer of the stature of a Christa Ludwig (who
sang an extraordinary Abschied with Herbert Von Karajan at the
end of the nineteen seventies), or of the stature of a Nan Merriman
(singing decades ago together with Ernst Haefliger under Bruno
Walter and Eduard Van Beinum respectively, and much later still
with good intentions with Eugen Jochum conducting), would have
given more depth to the dramatic and moving 'Die Sonne scheidet
hinter dem Gebirge...' and 'Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam
It also seemed that the first Song of the Earth (Das Trinklied
vom Jammer der Erde) did not set off as desired. Haitink, the
ACO and the tenor apparently had to warm up and the performance
was gradually gaining in impact, although the question remains:
How drunk do you have to be to sing 'Der Trunkene im Frühling'?
Dean certainly was not playful enough. It is Fritz Wunderlich
with Otto Klemperer who made the recording that set the standard
for all other performances.
must be said that there could be some tension, a slight hesitation,
as the performance needed to be impeccable as this concert was
being recorded for release on The Concertgebouw Orchestra's own
CD label since they do not have a contract with Philips or Decca
any longer. Nothing should go wrong.
a rhapsodic approach, but the structure and a broad concept is
Haitink's strength as was already clear in the perfectly balanced
sounds in the first bar of 'Der Abschied' which did not fail to
move the audience.
Haitink seems to be at his best in the slower movements where
he can build up tension and reach a surprising climax.
That is part of the essence of Bernard Haitink's style.
a concert in the late nineteen eighties, room had to be made for
the grand piano on which Horacio Guttierrez was going to play
a Prokofiev concerto. A few players came down the stage and sat
next to me at the long side of the hall. As Haitink had left the
orchestra, I asked a cello player his opinion about the new, principal
conductor Riccardo Chailly. And what about Bernard Haitink? He
said that the strength of Haitink was that he generally did not
waste too much time for rehearsals and extensive talks, but kept
much of the energy for the actual performance in the evening.
And, he said, then it often would happen that everybody got inspired
and the performance got this special quality of creation on that
moment, then and there.
Many concert goers certainly do know that this is the case, also
during many a recording session. For example in Tchaikovsky's
5th symphony. Or Mahler's 6th and 7th symphonies on Philips records,
in the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Vladimir Ashkenazy on
the Decca label, and with other orchestras as in Brahms's Alto
Rhapsody (Orfeo), and many other instances. Music lovers do remember
that in Rimsky Korsakov's 'Scheherazade' with the London Symphony,
in the third movement ('The Prince and the Princess), Haitink
really unfolds a love affair and adds drama to the score. And
in 'Jeux' (Debussy) he knows how to bring about a gloomy, esoteric
atmosphere. And don't forget the beginning of Liszt's Second Piano
Concerto and the slow movement in the First recorded with Alfred
Brendel and the LSO. Numerous are the examples.
Haitink does not have the aggressiveness of a conductor like Solti,
nor does he have the youthfulness of an extrovert Bernstein. Haitink's
treatment of fierce and wild movements remain organized, even
in the frenzy build up of Liszt's First Concerto with Brendel,
a recording you should definitely have on the shelve. And how
wonderfully strong and structured are 'Images pour orchestre"
of Claude Debussy and 'Alborada del gracioso' of Maurice Ravel.
There are too many recordings to cherish. And there are of course
his Mahler, Shostakovich and above all his Bruckner.
'Der Abschied' and the third movement of Mahler's 4th (Ruhevoll
- poco adagio) are Haitink's best playground. In the Fourth Symphony
he knows to expose the wonderful weirdness of the colorful orchestration
of themes, reminding us of Vienna, of klezmer music, of the folk
songs of the people in the mountains of Tyrol.
In the performance of the 4th movement in the anniversary concert,
both Bernard Haitink and Christine Schäfer had a complete
understanding and there was a remarkable mutual appreciation while
the conductor was giving her all the mental and musical support
which she fully enjoyed.
am not the person who likes the streamlined sound in a small frame
so often produced by certain costly electronics and loudspeaker
systems Having known the impact of a large symphony orchestra
since I was eleven years old when I sang in the boys choir of
Bach's St. Matthew Passion, I have an audio system which can be
loud at times and will also produce some distortion, the same
level you can get when sitting somewhere in the first ten rows
in the Concertgebouw. I have heard performances while being seated
at the far end of the hall. They did not have much impact because
the high frequencies had no strength and were drowning in the
carpet of people in their chairs.
let me tell you, the impact of the concert was also very high
because my seat was just in front of the violins and at a fair
distance from the bass players. The tonal balance was perfect,
warm and detailed, except for the soloists who were singing more
or less over the heads of those seated in the first rows.
After all it was a wonderfully sounding concert of a magnificent
orchestra and the "conductor laureate" Bernard Haitink.
Looking forward to the next concert of the maestro with the Royal
I will add more LPs to this page for the lovers of vinyl (even
if it concerns digital recordings), with performances (not necessarily
with the Concertgebouw Orchestra) I personally like.
- November 8, 2006