Bruckner — Symphony No. 9. Haitink/London Symphony Orchestra

by Anthony Kershaw on January 25, 2014 · 3 comments

in Classical Recordings

Bruckner’s unfinished final symphony is well represented in the catalogue. The three magnificent movements are completely different and offer a satisfying conclusion to Bruckner’s incredible symphonic canon.

Some conductors tried to finish the unfinished symphony by adding the composer’s Te Deum, complete with voices. I never bothered with it. I did bother with Sir Simon Rattle’s new ‘completed’ version with his Berlin Philharmonic. I was impressed with the finale movement as a whole, but it did nothing to finish what I consider the unfinishable. Basically, detailed Bruckner notes finished by musicologists.

For beauty alone, there’s not much better melodically in the symphonic repertoire. From the great opening to massive tutti melodies followed by bars and bars of stunning elegiac string and wind writing, the opening movement is famous for its purity of form and radiant beauty. Heaven on a page.

The scherzo is also famous for its pizzicato and massive attacks by a pounding brass section. I think it was Bruno Walter who described the opening pizzicato as if played by ‘a great Mephistophelian guitar’. Once heard, never forgotten.

And to the last, final musical outcry by the benevolent composer. The Adagio. The maid found him praying regularly, ‘Dear God, please let me finish the 9th’. Well, he finished the movement, but no more. It’s ‘fight for life’ theme interspersed with a gorgeous orchestral chorals that bode well for a happy afterlife.

So, what does the live LSO and and the fantastic Bernard Haitink bring to one of our favourite works? Lots. Lots of inner counterpoint not always heard, lovely solos, fantastic ensemble, appropriate brass tone and the voicing of the massive chords that only a lifetime of Bruckner dedication can bring. Haitink has been performing this work (and recording it) for many years. Not many conductors get the ‘Feierlich, misterioso’ (Solemn and mysterious) of the opening just so. Haitink and his LSO are perfect. The horns creep out of the darkness and shine light throughout the hall in the amazing opening. Underneath, listen to the trumpet and timpani in perfect balance trying ever so quietly to stop the horns’ momentum. And in fabulous D minor.

You can download Haitink’s much earlier Concertgebouw 9th right from iTunes. I heard it last month on a fantastic turntable setup with an original Philips LP. It was stunning. Very much like the LSO version, but with a little more pep in the step. But, this 9th, while slower, is monumental in scope and is an easy match for the new Rattle/Berlin ‘complete’ 9th.

Although there are several editions of the 9th, Haitink uses the 1951 Nowak Edition. The recording, taken from live shows at The Barbican, London, highlights the LSO in the loveliest ambiance. An effect not always heard live in the tricky acoustics. Good production from James Mallinson and his team. Highly recommended.

Audiophilia writer, James Norris was at the live performances last February. Maybe Jim can add a note in the comments?

Playing time: 67:10

Purchase from our affiliate, Amazon.

Release Feb 10, 2014

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Mercer 01.26.14 at 9:20 am

I’ve learned more about classical music through Audiophilia than any other Hi-fi zine! GREAT job as always!

admin 01.26.14 at 9:25 am

Thanks, Mike. Very kind.

All the very best. Cheers, a

Jim 04.01.14 at 6:19 am

I have just finally got around to listening to this recording of the ninth and having been present in the hall when it was recorded last year I have been knocked out by the sound and the detail that is presented here.
The balance in a concert hall always depends on where you sit and listening to this performance on CD I am struck by how much greater the detail is presented here than I heard in the upstairs balcony at the Barbican Hall.

I remember thinking on the night that I had heard harmonic detail that had escaped me on other recordings and performances and Haitink gets to the very heart of the work in a way few other conductors today can achieve. The chord separation in the strings for example in the slow movement glows with an inner core that makes this performance well worth having.

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