Dresden Staatskapelle/Haitink, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Within seconds of the opening bars, this concert at Birmingham's Symphony Hall dispelled the grim memory of the Dresden Staatskapelle's visit to Britain last year under the baton of Ion Marin. The playing then was uninvolved and uninvolving. But now, their relationship with Bernard Haitink, their music director for just over a year, is already bearing rich fruit, with the Staatskapelle's glorious sound here being put to the service of the music in a way that spoke volumes.

Haydn's Symphony No 86, one of the Parisseries, has a natural exuberance. Haitink invested it with a finesse and integrity that underlined the subtle complexities in superficially uncomplicated passages. With his extraordinary instinct for bringing drama to a phrase by making it ever quieter, Haitink also allowed the ear to linger momentarily on exquisite detail, while always maintaining an organic, dynamic energy.

For both Haydn and Bruckner, a profound and unquestioning faith was central to their being. However, the apparent ease and simple joy with which Haydn expressed his innermost feeling contrasts hugely with the almost tortured process by which Bruckner's inspiration achieved utterance. The Sixth Symphony is probably the closest we get to the real Bruckner, without the obsessive alterings and reworkings - and because, in Haitink, we get the stamp of authority and a lifetime's passionate commitment to the Bruckner cause, this was a totally gripping performance. He made of the work's vast architectural structure a noble and imposing span, less austere than it sometimes appears thanks to a feel for the moments of spontaneous lyricism in which Bruckner can suddenly indulge.

The blazing brass section were the first to receive Haitink's warm acknowledgement at the end, but it was the Staatskapelle's magnificent string tone that resonated with all the glowing patina of its centuries-old tradition. It augurs well for their return in celebration of Haitink's 75th birthday next year.


Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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