Classical Music: A first-class First

LSO/Bernard Haitink Barbican Centre, London
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Mahlerians with a lust for theatrical overstatement will have felt shortchanged at the Barbican on Wednesday when Bernard Haitink led the LSO in a double- bill consisting of four "Songs of a Wayfarer" (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) and the youthful First Symphony that grew out of them. Haitink, as ever, offered finely observed detail and firmly centred musical argument as his leading interpretative priorities, though phrasal warmth was in generous supply, and in the Lieder Anne Sofie von Otter acted the jilted lover to perfection. The flowering of blue flora that lightens the first song ("Blumlein blau...") was positively radiant, innocent, vocally entrancing and piquantly accompanied.

Von Otter's animated traversal of the second song marked the painful contrast between a "lovely" world full of sunshine and ultimate dejection; she gave us anger and grief, even a touch of petulance, in the third song - acting the part as if on an operatic stage - and at the fourth's linden tree, where the protagonist finds quiet in sleep, Haitink drew active parallels with both the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde.

In the First Symphony, countless instances of dynamic shading - a woodwind crescendo here, a cello diminuendo there - added extra colour to the canvas, and characterisation was unusually thoughtful. True, the rumbustious Landler took time to settle, but the bitter-sweet, occasionally surreal "Huntsman's Funeral" made an extraordinarily strong impact. For example, near the beginning of the movement - beyond the droll double-bass solo - Haitink understood (and underlined) the rustic flavour of Mahler's woodwind writing, kicking up the gravel for the Klezmer-style episode later on (with its village-band drum and cymbals) so that, when the funeral procession faded and the finale's storm finally broke, the contrast between local kitsch and universal terror struck a jarring, even horrifying, chord.

The finale traded bombast for genuine power, and coaxed heart-rending reportage of the two principal lyrical episodes, building the climaxes "brick by brick". The victory won, Haitink cued his lead players to face a rapturous response. He was called back again and again; the orchestra joined in the applause, and one could imagine that the conductor's auspicious and long-delayed LSO debut might well signal a significant relationship in the making.

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