Bernard Haitink brings dignity, restraint to Haydn and Bruckner at NY Philharmonic
By Dwight Casimere
Photo 1 Matthew Dine for the New York Philharmonic
New York-Guest Conductor Bernard Haitink received a rousing ovation as he approached the podium at Avery Fisher Hall to conduct a program of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Maestro Haitink had not conducted the orchestra since 1978, so the pent up enthusiasm was warranted. Those who expressed it were certainly rewarded by a program that showed both dignity and restraint in a very polished performance. This was Haitink at his best; conducting a seasoned, world-class orchestra in works that have become cornerstones of his repertory.
Haydn was the Jay Zee of London when he presented his Symphony No. 96. It was nicknamed the “Miracle Symphony” because, supposedly, a chandelier crashed in the concert hall at the premiere and, miraculously, no one was injured. His arrival in London was associated with the kind of celebrity we see recorded on TMZ today. His publicist took him on rounds of the London newspapers for interviews and he was the toast of an endless string of parties and dinners. London’s megatropolis atmosphere, even in the 1790s, was a long way from the gentility of the Esterhazy court of Vienna. Even in those days, the court’s arts programs were subject to economic cutbacks caused by a budget crunch due to political successions, leaving Haydn footloose and fancy-free to explore other climes. Vienna’s loss was London’s gain!
Maestro Haitink showed this gem of a symphony in all its multi-faceted glory. A slimmed down “Classical” Philharmonic played the music under his direction as if it were intuitive. His every move elicited just the right tempo or shading of orchestral color. A lightness of being evinced from the Menuetto and Trio. The Finale: Vivace (assai) was a showcase for the sylvan strings and burnished cellos and violas.
It all came to a refreshing, precise conclusion that affirmed the intellectual crispness of thinking that went into Haitink’s measured interpretation of this beautifully conceived work.
The last time I heard Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, it was under Mr. Haitink’s baton, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a work he recently recorded with that esteemed body. (Haitink and the CSO won a Grammy Award in 2009 for Best Orchestral Performances for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4, while serving as the body’s Principal Conductor) To call his rendition of the Bruckner with the New York Philharmonic mesmerizing is an understatement.
His approach was transfixing from beginning to end. The Adagio, in particular, showed his unique ability to approach weighty subject matter with restraint. His precision elicited the type of dramatic buildup that made the ensuing Scherzo appear to dazzle like a shooting star. There were some exquisite solos from the flutes and oboes as well. The strings shimmered with intensity as the timpani rang mightily leading to the rapturous Finale.