BWW Review: Haitink Captivates Boston - Again
Boston Symphony Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink has sustained a mutually respectful relationship with the BSO and its audiences for over 40 years. That this orchestra adores working with this iconic musician was clearly in evidence this weekend at Symphony Hall, as Haitink once again captivated his Symphony Hall audience with one French favorite bookended by two Austrian ones.
Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 60, subtitled Il distratto, or "scatterbrained," was last heard here in 1976. Landing just beyond halfway in Haydn's catalogue of over 100 symphonies, the work was composed in 1774, while Haydn occupied himself creating music for his patron Prince Esterházy's theatrical troupe. 17th century French comedies were all the rage at that time, and Haydn showed his comic expertise in his lighthearted composition, tweaking the genre's usual four movements with an added two.
Elegance is always a major component of Haitink's musical raison d'être, and it certainly epitomizes the performance he led in this rendering. Haitink kept the tone of the work buoyant and lively. Building on the composer's theatrical and operatic associations with the piece, he imparted a tongue-in-cheek, Opéra Comique lightness to the 6 Mozartean aria- and ensemble-like movements: from the dainty agility of the opening Allegro to the stylish frolicking of the Menuetto to the Hungarian atmosphere of its G Minor Allegro, to the fun-loving, final Prestissimo. The latter, with its own highly amusing version of Mozart's Musical Joke-type scordatura in the violins, was conducted with quick-tempo verve and played with easy virtuosity by the BSO strings.
Debussy's Trois Nocturnes for Orchestra, premiered in its entirety in 1901, is the embodiment of the ethereal impressionism at which the composer excelled. Under Haitink's baton the music shimmered and undulated in the opening Nuages, danced gaily in Fêtes, and haunted the listener with the mystery of its Sirènes.
Nuages, or "Clouds," pays homage to Debussy's own La Mer, with its constant, swirling flow of wave-like movement that seduces the listener. Haitink captured the atmosphere perfectly, lulling the audience into an ecstatic, dreamlike state, paving the way for the striking contrast of the second, Fêtes ("Festivals") movement. Here, Haitink whipped the orchestra into a celebratory frenzy in the opening section and in the movement's martial middle section, showed sweeping authority and stateliness using a mere stroke of his expressive left hand, always at the ready to emphasize a dynamic or a key harmonic fluctuation.
Reminiscent of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloë, the "Sirens" of the third movement, evoked by the scintillating voices of the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, capped the performance with grace and style, leaving the audience tingling with warmth and primed for Haitink's energetic interpretation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
Wagner may have called Beethoven's Seventh "the apotheosis of the dance," but George Bernard Shaw was of a different opinion, saying of the work's fourth movement finale that it sounded to him like "rum-tum." History belies the latter, as the work has been an audience favorite since its premiere in 1813 (coincidentally, the year of Wagner's birth). Wagner in fact was in his youth especially influenced by Beethoven's symphonies No. 7 and 9.
Beethoven's progression from his earlier classical symphonies to his later symphonies is not unlike that of Wagner from his earliest operas to his later ones. Haitink, whose operatic roots run deep, brought a vocal undulation to the work, most notably in the protracted introduction to the first movement, which was beautifully enhanced by the solo oboe's exquisite playing. Haitink's grace and poise on the podium are two of his most engaging characteristics, and he emphasized the dance rhythms in the main part of the movement with stylish refinement, embodying Wagner's "apotheosis" declaration.
In the Allegretto second movement, Haitink drew maximum poignancy from the relentless repeated rhythms and hammering harmonies, allowing the BSO strings to sing to their fullest, but always keeping the tempo con mosso. By contrast, in the Scherzo, the maestro maintained a light, cheerful presence, refined to the max, without overemphasizing the vivacious interjections that punctuate the rapidly moving flow of the dance cadences.
In Haitink's interpretation no one would mistake the final Allegro con brio for rum-tum. He had the wisdom to stand back and just let the orchestra, which has this work running through its veins, play their hearts out with the abandon and exuberance that are inherent in the work's character. This is a movement that benefits from the experience of a veteran, and Haitink demonstrated his canny understanding of Beethoven's style to the maximum, with an ever-increasing crescendo to a most joyful and satisfying ending.
Photo Credits: Clive Barda, Robert Torres