Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Bernard Haitink/RCMSO @ Royal College of Music Concert Hall, London

8, 9 December 2006

A great conductor working with a group of very talented young musicians is often a winning combination.

When it’s the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink, the results can be exhilarating.

As their end of year performance in the college’s Concert Hall, the students were led by the veteran conductor in an exciting account of Bruckner’s most beautiful symphony, the Seventh in E major.

A year ago, I heard Haitink conduct the RCM in Bruckner’s Ninth, which turned out to be one of the most uplifting concerts of 2005. This time wasn’t quite so memorable, although it was still a very enjoyable evening. If it wasn’t as stirring this year it was, at least in part, a programming consideration with the symphony performed alone. Last year, the Ninth was considerably enhanced by being coupled with a thrilling performance of the composer’s Te Deum, with a spectacular line-up of young soloists which included Anna Leese and Andrew Staples.

The Seventh Symphony was written around the time of Wagner’s death and Bruckner dedicated it to his hero, whose Parsifal he had recently seen in Bayreuth. Haitink conducted a performance that really brought out the Wagnerian sounds in the early contemplative part of the symphony.

The huge string section was a little over-enthusiastic in the first two movements, the lyrical themes of the Adagio calling for a little more delicacy at times, but this is a minor quibble and they were splendid in the second half of the work. There was some terrific work from the brass and woodwind throughout.

The Scherzo was driven through with tremendous energy, just allowing a breathing space during the poetic trio, and the final movement blazed with triumphant affirmation. This is difficult music for young musicians but with one of the world’s great conductors at the helm, they played magnificently.

This is a substantial work that can easily stand alone and, if I felt the lack of a companion piece, it’s because you can’t get enough of a good thing when the music-making is this fine.

The performance was one of two over the weekend and part of the RCM’s full programme of fully-staged operas, concerts, masterclasses and chamber recitals, many of which are free to members of the public. Having attended several in recent years, I can wholly recommend the trip to Kensington.

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