The Mahler 9 conducted by Haitink at the Proms was extraordinary, even for this man who astounded us all by his recording with the Concertgebouw 40 years ago. The orchestral sophistication of the performance beggared belief - a tribute to the LSO who, on this occasion, were the equals of any orchestra in the world in this repertoire. Nonetheless, I have a doubt. Listen to Haitink's comments during the radio introduction:
"One should not treat this music as a free-for-all, I mean a free for all emotions. It is all very clearly written, and, of course, Mahler said that the most important thing is behind the notes, but I am not for to treat his symphonies as fantasies or rhapsodies. It is very clearly structured, he knew very well what he was doing, he was a wonderful conductor and an incredible, unique composer and with all these emotions who are there, one should not tilt the balance too much, one should treat as a symphony."
I have transcribed the exact words of the maestro, whose English is fine but elegantly skewed from time to time. Clearly, the Bernstein vision is not for him. The final Adagio was all serenity in this reading (although one person disagrees with me on that), and throughout the performance refinement of expression was the keynote. There was no violence, nothing went bump in the night in this edifice of astounding aural beauty. It was magnificent, utterly magnificent, but a whole aspect of Mahler went for nothing, unless as Haitink might be suggesting, we have imposed an agenda on Mahler's work that is foreign to it. Discuss?
Listen while you can on the BBC iPlayer:
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