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Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 12 )

Vienna Philharmonic 5 - Haitink / Bruckner

Bruckner in the morning can be a tall order, for the conductor—Bernard Haitink heading the Vienna Philharmonic—as much as for the audience. At least the repose in Bruckner, the spiritual qualities of his music (assuming one is susceptible to them), make the experience easier than many other composers I can think of; Mahler, for example, would be too much on an empty stomach. But 11am or not, the combination of Haitink-VPO-Bruckner is too tempting to miss it, especially when it concerns the Fifth Symphony which, to my ears at least, is Bruckner’s ‘great’ (they’re all grand, of course) symphony, even more so than his Eighth, the ‘Cathedral’.

Haitink started into it without undue hesitation, the VPO’s double basses stomping through the walking bass in healthy mezzo-piano (that’s about as soft as they can play), rather than hushed pianissimos. But rather than a grand convex arch, this Fifth played out as a convex one; with a lull after the first movement that lasted until the naturally rousing, gripping finale and was not just due to the potential lack of concentration at this early hour. Even with the second movement’s double cream quality melody raising to the top like fat in fresh-from-the-cow milk, or the wistful tone of the concert master (= minimally flat and with a lamb’s tail vibrato), the feeling of being carried from greatness to greatness was lacking.

Haitink didn’t look younger by the end of the concert (I’m thinking especially of Guenter Wand who would climb on the rostrum an old man and one Bruckner-hour later hop off a sprightly 80-year old), but exceedingly tired. When I heard Haitink in the Fifth earlier this year, it wasn’t fireworks or life-changing, either, but at least the arch was flat, not sagging. That said, this was still ‘luxury-disappointment’, and seventy well invested minutes to ring in my final days at the Salzburg Festival.

Picture courtesy Salzburger Festspiele, © Silvia Lelli

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