Nine unmissable recordings by Bernard Haitink

Here are some of the best discs by the great Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink, who has died aged 92

Bernard Haitink
Published: October 22, 2021 at 10:15 am

We're celebrating the life of the great Dutch conductor, Bernard Haitink, with a look at some of his greatest recordings.

Advertisement

Bernard Haitink, who conducted his first concert in 1954, was chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years. He's played a significant role in UK musical life over his 65-year career, holding positions with Glyndebourne Opera, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Opera House. And with recordings ranging from Haydn to Ravel, Beethoven to Shostakovich, there's a lifetime of Haitink's genius to explore.

Brilliant Beethoven

Bernard Haitink recorded complete cycles of both Beethoven's and Brahms's Symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world. The Beethoven series, recorded at the Barbican, is 'one of the most distinguished that has appeared in recent decades', according to our critic Michael Tanner. LSO Live LSO0598

• Haitink conducts Beethoven Symphony No. 9

• The best recordings of Beethoven's symphonies

BBC Music Magazine's Recording of the Year 2018

'When I was very young and I started playing Mahler in London, the halls were half empty. Now he has this enormous popularity,' the conductor told The Guardian in 2009. Haitink is one of the world's leading Mahler conductors now, and he recorded all nine symphonies with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. But it's this live performance of the mighty Third Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that triumphed at the 2018 BBC Music Magazine Awards. BR Klassik 900149

Choral classics

The last decade has seen Haitink making excellent recordings of large-scale choral masterpieces, including Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Haydn's The Creation. This live version of Haydn's popular oratorio was made in Munich in 2014 and, says our reviewer, it demonstrates the 'strength of Haitink’s conducting – its combination of taut control and pleasure in collaboration, of long-range vision and command of detail.' BR Klassik 900125

Marvellous Mozart

The Mozart tradition at Glyndebourne stems from its very beginning, when a production of The Marriage of Figaro got the first festival underway in 1934. Fast forward 60 years, and it was Figaro that was put on to inaugurate the new opera house, with a starry cast including Gerald Finley, Alison Hagley and Renée Fleming. Bernard Haitink proved himself a natural successor when he served as the Sussex opera company's music director for a decade. He was one of those 'true Mozartians who knew what they wanted and, as if by a direct line to Mozart, knew how to get it', as the late George Christie, son of the festival's founder, once said. Warner Classics 0630140132

Close partnership

'Classic accounts of these incomparable works,' we say. The orchestras may change, but Murray Perahia and Bernard Haitink have often worked together over the decades, and this set of Beethoven's five Piano Concertos is a testament to this fruitful musical friendship. Sony 88697102902

• The best works by Clara Schumann

• Top 20 Britten recordings

Shostakovich to remember

'I met him only once; he was sick by that time – it was the last year of his life. We had a talk – he was a nervous man, wary.' Years later, in an interview with The Guardian, Haitink recalled his lone meeting with Shostakovich, in 1975. The conductor claims he prefers the Soviet composer's quartets to the symphonies, but of the latter the 14th and 15th are his favourites. And this performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Shostakovich's final symphony is clear-sighted and virtuosic. RCO Live RCO11003

Opera from Berlin

Anne Sofie von Otter and John Tomlinson star as Judith and Bluebeard in this Bartok's Bluebeard’s Castle, a brilliantly atmospheric recording of the one-act opera that earned top place in BBC Radio 3's Building A Library programme. Warner Classics 5561622

Starry line-up

With ten nominations to his name and three wins to date, Haitink first made an impression at the Grammys in 1980 with an album of Romantic concertos. Violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich joined forces for the Brahms Double Concerto, with Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra – of which he was chief conductor for 27 years. Warner Classics 7494862• Haitink's Mahler wins Recording of the Year

The Chicago chapter

Between the tenures of Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti, Haitink took up the specially created post of principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During his four-year stint (2006-2010) with the leading US orchestra, he made eight recordings for the ensemble's own label. Sample this recording of dramatic Strauss and visionary Webern. CSO Live CSOR 901 1004

Advertisement

We named Bernard Haitink one of the greatest conductors of all time

Authors

Rebecca Franks
Rebecca FranksJournalist, Critic and former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine

Rebecca Franks is the former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine and a regular classical music critic for The Times. She is currently writing her first children's book.

Sponsored content