Berlin Philharmonic/Haitink, Barbican, London
Friday 01 October 2004
The 75th-birthday celebrations of Bernard Haitink have been a lengthy affair, and they still have one party to go.
The 75th-birthday celebrations of Bernard Haitink have been a lengthy affair, and they still have one party to go. Not only have they featured the orchestras that, over Haitink's career, have consistently been Europe's best; they have brought them to the Barbican, where, before the recent acoustic changes, many visiting bands feared to tread. Now it's Haitink who has got even the Berlin Philharmonic there, rather than the orchestra's chief, Simon Rattle, marking a climax not only to the birthday bashes but, in a sense, to the whole trajectory of the great man's music-making.
There was just one piece: the vast Third Symphony of Mahler, one of the composers, alongside Bruckner and Shostakovich, whose ascent into public favour has paralleled the conductor's career and, to an extent, been driven by it. He has often conducted it with London orchestras, but in other halls. Would it fit? The players packed on, within two metres of the front row, but the question was about sound rather than size. Larger symphonies have been crammed into the Barbican, but not played by an orchestra that has been famous for its big sound since the times of Von Karajan.
An explosive bass drum near the start seemed to surprise even the players. But Haitink is not the man for straining tone and hyped-up drama, and while the horns certainly filled the house, they did so with restraint. The full force of the orchestra was kept for three or four peak moments, the impact all the more shattering for leaving the ears space to recover.
In the Barbican's close-up you could enjoy to the full the subtleties of craft and practice that go into making the big picture a great one. Prime among them was the shading of one orchestral colour into another, trumpets into trombones and over to the basses, as one of Mahler's shrill outbursts winds down into a fading growl. The moments when an off-stage posthorn emerges are always magical, but never more seamlessly brought off.
Anna Larsson's warm, secure singing, at a testingly slow pace, was punctuated by a stark note-bending oboe, and into the short choral episode with neat singing from London Symphony Chorus and St Paul's choristers - not enough of them, the one point when size did matter.
At the end, the audience let the final massive chord hang on into a silence as unexpected as it was affecting. Whenever did you hear a British audience do that? It was a greeting more profound than all the subsequent ovations, a tribute not just to a concert but to a life.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo shot dead at war memorial
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Taylor Swift, 1989, album review: Pop star shows 'promising signs of maturity'
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
Breaking Bad season 6 hoax: Vince Gilligan has not confirmed a new series
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'