Ferocity and respite alternated throughout the Symphony's first movement, with the choicest subtleties reserved, performance-wise, for its quietest orchestration. I think in particular of the bassoons, bass clarinet and muted horns; the perfectly paced timpani strokes, the myriad burblings among assorted woodwinds and the pleading lyricism of Mahler's string choirs.
The playing of the London Philharmonic had much to commend it, primarily in terms of the brass (horns in particular) and woodwinds. Just occasionally, I craved a fuller string tone and tighter overall ensemble; but the rhythmic thrust of Haitink's reading was never compromised. The Symphony's second movement is a blustery pot-pourri of Austrian-style dance tunes, cunningly crafted and played on Saturday night with bluff humour. The LPO brass became a village band, though the softer-grained trio sections offered mellower food for thought. Mahler's churlish Rondo Burleske fired off at a dangerously fast tempo. The Orchestra held tight to the reins, slipping slightly every now and then but always maintaining the musical tension. The strings fared best in the haunting trio, but their finest moments were heard towards the close of the Adagio, music so sublime, so poignantly beautiful, that the players seemed reluctant to let it die. But die it did, as Haitink's left arm fell listlessly towards the score and the silence broke with appreciative applause.
Rob CowanReuse content