Bernard Haitink conducts MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major; Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection”

by | Nov 15, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Bernard Haitink conducts MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major; Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection”  

Performers: Silvia McNair, soprano/ Jard van Nes, contralto/ Ernst-Senff-Chor/ Sigurd Brauns, chorus-master/ Berlin Philharmonic/ Bernard Haitink
Studio: Philips DVD 074 3131
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 152 minutes
Rating: ****

The Mahler D Major Symphony was taped at the Philharmonic in Berlin in January, 1994. Bernard Haitink appears the dapper Romantic, having shed some of the rigorously mechanical demeanor in his style that made him reliable but often colorless in the past. A palpable stillness invests the opening movement of the D Major, the dark lighting giving Haitink a sacredotal effect as the winds, harp, and strings move from an unearthly mysticism into the throes of the Ging heut morgen ueber’s feld from the Songs of a Wayfarer cycle. Cuckoos and twittering birds abound, while the French horns and shimmering strings lavish Nature’s bounty on us even in the midst of individual yearning and despair. The camera pulls back along the long line of brass layers and then cuts to the string section for the graduated crescendo of Nature’s awesome power, the cymbals crashing with Roman glamour. Wonderful trills from the brass, marvelous execution in all choirs. Trombones blaze both to the eye as well as to the ear. Cross cutting from brass to tympani for a resounding coda.

The A Major Scherzo starts from the double basses and cuts to the strings and to Haitink’s fluttering left hand. Haitink conducts this ironic laendler with eyes closed, a la Karajan. Strings and tuba do not lack for direction, however, as every line is driven hard, punctuated by firm blasts of trumpets and rolling tympani. A rocket of sound just prior to the F Major trio, a tender waltz that might owe something to Schumann. Haitink makes eye contact again for the woodwind interchanges, leading his bassoons in ripe counterpoint to the strings and French horn. He looks right to the cymbal crash at the da capo. The strings and trumpets rising to a heated coda. The D Minor mock-funeral march between double-bass and bassoon takes Frere Jacques into delicious colors, the oboe and E-flat clarinet even tossing in some Klezmer. Here Haitink’s capacity for clear, definitive lines pays off, balancing beauty and parody. The G Major episode provides consolation in the form of another of the Gesellen songs, Your Two Blue Eyes, led by the tender pleas on the harp and mysterioso strings. Ravishing colors from flutes, strings, and oboe.

The cymbal crash which announces the storm and stress of the last movement initiates a titanic march mollified by a tender romantic melody in D-flat. Haitink utilizes sweeping gestures and economical applications of stasis alternately, invoking the magisterial struggle that this music signifies. Woodwinds and strings bring in the natural world once more, but we see that Mother Nature can kill as well as cure. An expansive approach to this convulsive movement is Haitink’s, the opening movement connection superimposed on the poignant melody, seeming to herald the paradoxical cataclysms of the 20th Century. The oboe ushers in an agonized moment of thunderous beauty. The strings urge the polyphony, a less sentimental reality. Horns and tympani render up a triumphal march, bittersweet, the interval of a fourth, so much the connecting glue to this work, vibrating long-distance as the camera pulls back to embrace the Philharmonie. Haitink’s forces whirl in Technicolor as the cymbals explode, Mahler at his glorious best. No audience member is still seated after the final chord.

The Mahler Second comes from January 1993, and Haitink takes a long, deep breath before ushering in the tremolandi that open this monumental ride, with its hints at Die Walkuere. The oboe and bassoon remind us of Nature’s all-pervasive influence, but inexorability of Time (in E-flat Minor when the Dies Irae winks at us) marches through the low strings. The pull-back shot gives us the resplendent forces under Haitink’s command. Eight French horns in profile make us wonder if it is Mahler’s Titan or the spirit of Richard Wagner who lies in the coffin. Six trumpets prefigure Judgment Day. Harps, trumpets, oboes, and bass-fiddles trudge us into melancholy. The strings harken the Urlicht, the primal light of E Major Original Innocence, Mahler’s urge to Rapture, the ensemble’s achieving a chamber music texture in the quiet sections. Fervent trombones, biting apostrophes from the winds and strings maintain the emotional contraries in this epic struggle for spiritual guidance. The sheer weight and textural complexity unfold in rich panoply before us, Haitink in close connection with his descending strings and pervasive tympanist. The loud chord before the recapitulation almost knocks Haitink off his podium; then, the trumpet and fateful strings begin their implacable climb to Golgotha. Romantic portamento evokes the fin-de-siecle sensibilities of this music. An eerie silence before the extended coda, horns soft, the flutes twittering into the gradual crescendo march in counterpoint, Haitink’s two arms barely able to contain the mass of music before him.

The successive movements may constitute intermezzi, but they have have their own charms. The Andante moderato is a grand, leisurely laendler, Mahler’s answer to A Siegfried Idyll. Haitink opens the movement with his left hand cross his heart, eliciting a Viennese waltz that moves visually from harp to French horn to strings and flute. Haitink’s facial gestures become another musical instrument; he invokes the clarinet and the antiphons from the string choirs. The martial element asserts itself, only to return to the full string tutti pizzicato, Haitink rapt with pleasure. The Scherzo plays like impish Mendelsssohn, fluttering metrics with bird calls amidst disembodied double basses, clarinet, two sets of tympani unisono, as Mahler’s persona wavers between faith and cosmic despair. The Urlicht movement ushers an otherworldly horn call answered by oboe, trumpet, and harp. Jard van Ness sets the devotional, supplicatng tone, an ecstatic pantheism. Her imploring will be answered by the conviction in soprano Sylvia McNair’s part, as Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode achieves a frisson of motion under a sweat-glistening Haitink. The last movement, sectionalized as it is, is fraught with brass visions of Wagner’s Valhalla or Dante’s Paradiso, with three snare drums, gong, and tones suggesting Beethoven’s Op. 111 and the Verdi Requiem. Pregnant silences, while the camera ranges upward into the Philharmonie roof structure for off-stage clarion calls. The chorus in wonderfully graduated tones. The Klopstock becomes a white-hot brew of passion and the desire for transcendence. You can decide if Mahler’s vision is the real thing.

— Gary Lemco

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