As farewells to the stage go, the series of concerts given by the Vienna Philarmonic under Bernard Haitink last Summer takes some beating. It was announced as a sabbatical for the nonagenarian, but it was understood to mean a leave-taking. Even Karina Saligmann, in her booklet notes, puts it the word sabbatical in quotes as she wishes him well.
This is the Salzburg performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto (with Emanuel Ax) and Bruckner's Seventh Symphony; for those of us in the UK who were privilleged to be at the BBC Proms performance on September 5, it acts as a poignant momento. It is released on the very day of this post.
Soloist though he might be, but for all his unforced eloquence throughout and technical ease (especially in the cadenza in the first movement), Ax was the supporting act. This is a wonderful, life-enhancing Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto caught on the Salzburg leg of their tour in the Großes Festspielhaus.
Video Director Hisao Tonooka offers non-interventionist coverage: he knows we want to concentrate on what matters, the composers and Haitink. We see Haitink conduct the long-limbed melody that opens the first movement of the Seventh; his gestures may be minimal, but the authority is absolute. Bruckner's tribute to Wagner, the last section of the Adagio, with its quartet of Wagner tubas, is as powerful as any. The Vienna string sound, a wonder at any time, seems particularly miraculous here. Interestingly Tonooka does not bring us the Wagner tubas visually on their first entrance - thet are initially heard, then soft-focus, then we "meet them" as they lead to the climax (with cymbal, for those to whom that is meaningful).
After the saturating, all-encompassing emotion of the Adagio, Bruckner added a galloping Scherzo to refresh. Hatink's tour also took the performers to Lucerne, and here's the Scherzo from that performance:
As the finale wends its way towards the final perorations, there is that indefinable aura of greatness. Haitink's understanding of how Bruckner crafts his climaxes is almost unparalleled, of course (arguably unparalleled amongst living conductors), and so it is that the close ofthe symphony is so wholly satisfying.
A magnificent document, one that all Bruckner lovers should obtain as a matter of urgency. Bluray and DVD links are below.