PROMS European Union Youth Orchestra / Haitink Royal Albert Hall, London / Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
"The co-operation and unity of European youth" might, at first glance, seem like a somewhat Utopian notion, but if the European Union Youth Orchestra can't "symbolise a united community of nations working together for peace, harmony, social justice and human dignity" (the orchestra's stated ideals), then who can? It seemed especially apposite that, in this of all weeks, the EUYO should engage us in an exceptional Prom on Tuesday night while, a few hundred yards down the road at Kensington Palace, the dying light transformed a thousand bouquets into a sea of crystal. Youth and Hope are very much of the moment, and I have to say that the mountainous coda that crowns the first movement of Bruckner's predominantly lyrical Seventh Symphony tapped an emotional source that was welling in all of us. Bernard Haitink conducted and the orchestra - which calls on significant talents from 15 different European countries - gave its all.

Haitink's view of the Seventh is unusually dramatic. The opening movement was a true Allegro, lively and assertive with piquantly pointed woodwind solos and a thunderous peroration where two timpanists beat a deafening roll off the same drum. Haitink's pacing for the Adagio was more songful than solemn, and the rising string phrases that follow the first theme had an air of defiance about them.

As in the first movement, Haitink varied the pulse according to the general drift of Bruckner's musical arguments, lightening the texture here, easing the tempo there, and building a formidable aural bridge towards the cymbal- capped climax. The "envoi" that closes the movement (where four Wagner tubas sound a soulful retreat) was extraordinarily poignant and the quietly tensed string passage that follows it, truly breathtaking. The Scherzo had an air of rustic gaiety about it and the energetic finale boasted an especially expansive coda. Listeners with long memories may have been reminded of that other great Dutch Brucknerian, the late Eduard van Beinum, whose vital, unfettered performances eschewed - like Haitink's - any hint of mock-Teutonic portentousness.

Among the crowds that cheered the Seventh was Emanuel Ax who, an hour or so earlier, had treated us to a forthright account of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Ax fanned the first chord of his opening solo on a generous arpeggio (an unexpected but effective expressive device), then Haitink and his orchestra allowed the briefest hesitation before responding. Both artists revelled in the whole score, Ax shouldering the beat at each orchestral tutti, and Haitink gripping tight as Ax brought Beethoven's huge first- movement cadenza to the boil. It was a fine match of temperaments, Haitink parading the expected virtues of warmth and solidity, and Ax tempering Rubinsteinian boldness with a degree of humility that paid highest dividends in the slow movement. As to the orchestra, every player sat poised for action and any minor lapse in ensemble - there were one or two in both the Bruckner and the Beethoven - was more a symptom of excessive zeal than of carelessness. But then zeal and enthusiasm are central to any successful "community". Long may this one flourish.

Concert rebroadcast at 2pm tomorrow on BBC Radio 3

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