Some conductors specialise in operatic fare; others in concert repertoire. This aphorism may have been true in the past, but such distinctions have largely evapor-ated these days. The London Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor, Sir Colin Davis, was the former music director of the Royal Opera and continues to consolidate his reputation in the opera house. The tables will be turned this week, however, when Sir Colin temporarily cedes his podium in the Barbican to the current music director of the Royal Opera, Bernard Haitink (right), who wields the baton over the LSO in three concerts of Haydn, Bruckner and Mahler symphonies.
Amazingly, for the 68-year-old Haitink, this trilogy of concerts marks his long-awaited LSO debut. Not that Haitink has by any means confined himself to the Covent Garden pit since he took up tenure there 10 years ago, but, with the Opera House currently closed, he again seems to be taking the opportunity to spread his wings. In the concert hall, Haitink has frequently been drawn to what might be called the Viennese line, becoming especially noted for his interpretations of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss.
A major exponent of the operas of Wagner to boot, it is perhaps fitting that one of the touchstone works in Haitink's concert repertoire is Bruckner's 7th Symphony, perhaps the composer's most "Wagnerian" Symphony. Bruckner started to sketch it in 1881, concentrating on the droll Scherzo. The following year, and under the spell of Wagner's Parsifal, he began work on the first movement before moving on to the majestic Adagio. It is said that the Adagio's coda came to Bruckner during a premonition of Wagner's death; and soon the news did arrive from Venice that Wagner had died. From then on, Bruckner recast his 7th as a tribute to the Master - introducing a quartet of Wagner tubas into the scoring, and amplifying that already lengthy Adagio to gargantuan proportions.
Haitink's three, thematically related LSO concerts have the feel of a mini-festival, which is maintained in the choice of the other three works to be aired; the first by Haydn, the other two by Mahler. Bruckner completed his 7th Symphony in 1883; only two years later the 25-year-old Mahler began writing his own 1st Symphony. Much of the work's material already derives from a set of four songs - the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and those songs are aired before the Symphony in the Jan 14 concert, with Anne Sofie von Otter as the vocal soloist.
So, three potentially breathtaking concerts lie in store when the LSO ushers in its new year under Bernard Haitink's probing baton.
Bernard Haitink conducts the LSO in three concerts on 11, 14, 15 Jan at the Barbican Hall, EC2 (0171-638 8891) at 7.30pmReuse content