There are few living conductors with Haitink’s experience and wisdom in performing Bruckner, and his readings typically speak with great authority while eschewing the portentous bombast that popular belief would hold responsible for alienating listeners from these symphonies (I do not believe they were ever commonly conducted like that but Haitink rejects it all the same). As in much of his Bruckner conducting, Haitink was concerned in the first movement with two goals: sticking to a moderate tempo and maintaining at all times a decent sense of flow, and showing how Bruckner stirs his protean themes into being and subsequently develops and transforms them. Usually these two aims are kept in masterful balance, fusing to produce Bruckner’s famous architectonic spans, but here there were points at which more time might profitably have been taken without losing sight of the broader sweep; pressing through the finer detail diminished the impact of the movement’s massive contrasts. Haitink’s build-up to the final climax was however carefully prepared and the force of the very end beyond devastating.
For more, see here. Bernard Haitink is not a regular visitor to Vienna and I had forgotten how much he likes to keep his Bruckner moving. I’m not sure if I care all that much for it, and detect an underlying sense, whether intended or not, of responding to alleged formal problems which any reasonably thorough analysis, not to mention successfully expansive performance, will prove simply not to exist; Wittgenstein’s observation that Bruckner composed in his head and Brahms with his pen is the oversimplification he qualifies it as.
One detail in Haitink’s performance I wish more conductors would follow was the lack of undue prominence given to the quotation in the first movement from the Seventh Symphony’s Adagio; it is more than a casually tossed-in aside and assumes greater motivic significance with the contrapuntal treatment given to it at the end (this appearance looked over in many a performance, though not here).
Some Philharmoniker notes: the final movement of the Beethoven (fourth piano concerto, with Murray Perahia) was in desperate need of a cello solo from Franz Bartolomey and an indication of how sorely he will be missed. If there is section principal material lurking amongst his colleagues I am yet to hear it, and fresh blood may well be needed – heavens forbid, even a starke Frau. As for behaving like a section principal, if Christoph Koncz – the blond second violinist who looks as if he should still be in the Boy Scouts – could restrain himself from grinning like a overexcited baboon at the prospect of climaxes in the music (here the D major summit of Bruckner’s first Steigerung), the orchestra would be a little more watchable.