BWW Reviews: Bernard Haitink Conquers the NY Philharmonic in Mahler's 3rd Symphony
Bernard Haitink conducts the NY Philharmonic in Mahler's 3rd Symphony
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, Thursday, May 15th, 2014
It's nice, for a change, to be able to write an article about Bernard Haitink that doesn't focus on some controversy; cancellation, acrimonious departure, etc, etc. The eminent Dutch conductor, who just celebrated his 60th anniversary at the podium, seems to constantly be in a war of words with someone; whether it be a former orchestra, a former opera company, a certain concert hall. Over the last decade, Maestro Haitink's performance history in New York has been uneven, often not rising to the level that his legend and his press have set for him.
Such thoughts were light years away last week as he once again took the podium at the New York Philharmonic. On Thursday night, he made genuine magic once again, and reminded the critics that at 85, he still has plenty of game left in him.
Mahler's 3rd Symphony was the playing field and Haitink commanded the orchestra like a fierce yet compassionate general. It is worth noting that for a person who has publically stated that there is far too much Mahler being performed nowadays "at the expense of more beautiful and more important music," he certainly spends a disproportionate amount of his time conducting it! Nevertheless, the results on Thursday night were transcendent.
Even a short brisk take on the Mahler 3rd can be a long evening. The monumental piece often clocks in at over an hour and a half in length and many a great conductor has fallen into the trap of meandering through some of the more banal sections. Haitink found something very special in each of the piece's five movements and exposed colors and textures that are rarely brought to the surface of the piece. The first movement, was a tad subdued for this writer's taste, lacking a bit of the bombast usually associated with it, but it was indeed a fresh take. In the softer and quieter moments, Haitink, massaged and gently coaxed some truly gleaming sounds and even some of the darker passages seemed brightly lit.
The scherzo was slightly little less crisp than one could have hoped for but not to the point of sloppy. The wonderful trumpet breaks in the third movement were handled with tremendous delicacy by Matthew Mucky.
The ethereal fourth movement provided an elegant contrast to the more agitated movements and offered the audience a moment's repose in the lengthy performance. The woodwinds really had their moment to shine as they provided the mysterious underscoring for the lovely mezzo soprano melody which vacillated back and forth with Glenn Dicterow's ravishing violin playing. Unfortunately, the Elysium piece of the movement was slightly marred by a sour patch of sounds emanating from the horn section. At any other moment, they might have gone unnoticed, but against the cottony backdrop of the Sehr Langsam, they were somewhat exposed.
It's hard not to be emotionally struck by the final movement. Complete with two choirs and soloist, it's really a musical glory of the highest rank. Buenos Aires-born, Mezzo-Soprano Bernarda Fink gave a finely detailed reading of the intimate text, singing with lush, dark burnished tones. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the women of New York Choral Artists provided a powerful and passionate resolution to the marathon symphony. If Haitink had been saving up his energy for the finale, it was energy well spent. The glimmering, angelic voices of the children's choir and the ravishing playing of the orchestra in the final moments created one of those truly magical moments that one hopes for but only rarely receives at a concert.
Haitink had conquered and the adoring audience (and orchestra - most of the orchestra joined in the applause for the maestro) let him know that New York still loves him. The prolonged ovation seemed more like a thank you for a lifetime of music, than merely the evening's performance and Haitink basked in it. At 85, there is no telling how many more evenings the maestro has left in the tank for his New York fans, so it is especially satisfying to see and hear him in such prime form. Let's hope he has a few more such evenings in store for us!