Classical: Hasten not too slowly
Wednesday 14 January 1998
According to Roger Norrington, "there are no slow movements in Haydn". Listen to Norrington himself conducting one of the symphonies and you can hear what he means. Whatever the apparent speed, everything dances. Judging from Sunday's performance of Symphony No 86, Bernard Haitink takes the rather more old-fashioned view that a "slow" movement is a slow movement - that Largo doesn't just mean a "broad" pulse; it means put your feet up, breathe deeply, reflect on serious things.
Taken too slowly, the forced earnestness of a Haydn "slow" movement begins to sound faintly comical, as in a sermon by Austen's Mr Collins. Under Haitink, the Largo of No 86 certainly wasn't light on its feet, but, given such superbly controlled phrasing and rhythmic detail, it flowed, like a broad, slow river. The finale was the perfect antidote: lively, witty, uplifting. The wit may be more suave and regal than in Norrington's earthy performances. But then, Haitink is adept at showing the serious side of the humour, as in the first movement, where apparently "jokey" harmonic twists and puns can be momentarily disturbing.
Ask most music-lovers for a brief summary of Bruckner's style and the word "slow" will surely figure somewhere, along with "architectural" and/or "cathedral-like". Fine, except that there has been a disturbing tendency lately for conductors to emphasise the monumental at the expense of the human - something that the great Brucknerians, from Furtwangler to Gunter Wand, never did. Rattle's new recording of the Seventh is one of the most worrying examples of this trend.
It would be hard to think of a better antidote to Rattle's Seventh than Haitink's. Haitink doesn't hurry the music; the long phrases are given time to breathe, and, when Bruckner stops to enjoy the view, Haitink stops with him. And yet, in the background, there is a sense that the music - to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins - "rides time like riding a river". With the grand scale, came a sense of intimacy - in the deeply soulful first theme of the Adagio, or in its lighter, Schubertian counterpart, or in the cellos' nobly aspiring phrases at the heart of the first movement.
Then, in the last two movements - miracle of miracles - Haitink rediscovered the humour in the music. Early critics both praised and condemned the Scherzo for its irreverence (Bruckner wrote the words "Mocking bird" over one little woodwind figure), while in places the finale comes to resemble a gargantuan Haydn - with previously solemn Wagner tubas exchanging mock- churchy cadences or cavorting like tipsy hippos. Even here, though, there was still plenty of affection in the solo playing and warmth in the orchestral sound. The end was just glorious - a real symphonic apotheosis. One slightly worrying question: apart from the increasingly frail Wand, how many of today's conductors even approach Haitink in his understanding of this music? None that I can think of.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food