18 May, 2014

Haitink Mahler 3

pic from NYT.
Concert Review: New York Philharmonic - Haitink

May 16, Avery Fisher Hall
New York Philharmonic - Bernard Haitink - Bernada Fink
Women of the New York Choral Artists - Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Mahler Symphony No. 3

This was part of the international celebration of Bernard Haitink's 85th birthday and his 60th year as conductor. This led me to contemplate how time flies! When I first heard Haitnk and the Concertgebouw in the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique in Carnegie Hall around 30 years ago I knew nothing about him, but the incredibly natural flow of the performance gripped me and made me an instant fan of his. Since then I had avidly followed him on records, though I think, like quite a few other conductors, he is definitely better heard live. Then some years later there was a performance for the ages of Mahler's Ninth with the BPO, again in Carnegie Hall, which ranked with Karajan's performance of the same work in the same hall as two of my most cherished Mahler experiences.

All I can say is that the performance of Mahler's Third was a ear-opener, a true revelation. The first movement was a little slow, but it picked up in momentum. It is too bad the brass sound has always been a little white from my seat in the second tier (I prefer one flight up). The next two movements were startling in the alternation of light and darkness, and the NYPO, to my surprise, played with chamber-like refinement and intimacy that was breath-taking. The orchestral playing was so absorbing that I was not as receptive to mezzo Bernada Fink as some others. She sang well, but I found both the top and bottom of her range not as well delineated as I'd like. And I also think both choruses were competent but not exceptional. The orchestral contribution never let up and the last movement, surely one of Mahler's finest, was eloquent.

As usual, Haitink conducted with minimal fuss, and focused on the score in front of him, but the fluid line and tonal colors he got were simply awesome. No podium antics, no turn-on-a-dime effects, but the music speaks for itself (the last something used by lesser conductors as an excuse, but it is a completely different matter here). In fact, I have never heard so many details in any recording, and it re-opened my eyes. 

p.s. The week before, Haitink had led the NYPO in Beethoven's Eroica and the Berg Violin Concerto with Leonida Kavakos. The concert got mixed reviews.But the Mahler Third fared better with the NY Times review.

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