Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra have enjoyed a relationship for more than 50 years.
And this unique partnership told in every bar of an incandescent performance of Bruckner’s monumental Eighth Symphony.At just over eighty minutes, the key to making the symphony work in performance is an understanding of its architecture. It’s about pace, pulse and forging the whole work into one great arc of sound.
With his experience in Wagner, few conductors are better placed than Haitink to know exactly how to achieve this – never once did the tension flag, whilst the playing drawn from the orchestra was almost obscene in its opulence.
The allegro moderato had a portentous tread. The strings were full of foreboding; climaxes always grew organically thanks to Haitink’s faultless pacing, and when they happened they were as thrilling in their cohesion as they were in their impact. The contribution of the Wagner tubas added a baleful presence to the overall warmth of ensemble.
The Scherzo was exhilarating with its forward propulsion that built inexorably to the two climaxes – brass and timpani coming into their own within this movement. And then the Adagio: with its opening pulsating strings, it is reminiscent of the accompaniment to that paean of longing which forms the core of Act Two of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, “O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe” (Sink upon us, night of love). Haitink drew reverential playing from the strings in particular during this movement – their tonal glow was intoxicating.
The final movement, unusually, treads a slowish path compared to most other symphonies but builds to an inevitable climax, preceded by an awe-inspiring crescendo that blazes away in C Major. All sections of the orchestra played as though their lives depended on it – the level of ensemble that Haitink nurtured from the players was quite simply magnificent. It’s not hard to see why the Royal Concertgebouw are deemed to be one of the greatest orchestras in the world and, when partnered with one of the world’s great conductors, their music making was a thrill to behold.