This is the second of Haitink’s four (!) recordings of this symphony, made in 1978. There’s been a lot of bad Bruckner recently, an artifact of the need of modern conductors who feel uncomfortable with the forms of the German classics, sonata form in particular. Now of course Bruckner grew up with this tradition and believed that he was working with traditional symphonic structures, but the fact remains that his “stop and go” first movements and finales never require the conductor to create and sustain the kind of tension and momentum that we find in, say, Beethoven or Brahms (never mind Haydn or Mozart). As a result, he has become the flavor of the decade, especially among modern music specialistsRead more who need to find music to program that a normal audience might conceivably sit through.
Bruckner does, however, have his own sense of momentum, and however many pauses he may have written between sections, the best performances capture and project the music’s flow. This one does it as well as any ever has. The playing of the Concertgebouw is gorgeous; the strings glow, the brass are ideally balanced, and Haitink paces each movement to perfection. The first movement isn’t rushed, but it has the requisite energy, while the Adagio rises to a climax that’s positively apocalyptic. Both the scherzo and finale are fresh and bracing, with the coda of the latter not upstaged by that of the first movement. It should be mandatory listening for all young conductors who play Bruckner for reasons that don’t allow them even to begin to plumb the music’s expressive depths.