Bernard Haitink conducts Strauss & Webern

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COMPOSERS: R Strauss,Webern
LABELS: CSO Resound
WORKS: R Strauss; Ein Heldenleben; Webern: Im Sommerwind
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: CSOR 901 1004

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In these live performances from 2008, Bernard Haitink directs a Heldenleben full of excellent qualities, yet not quite so spellbinding or charismatic as Reiner’s. The way he delineates Strauss’s polyphony is very impressive, bringing out the counterpoints and subsidiary voices with nothing short of exemplary clarity.

The orchestral sound is magnificent in SACD, quite stunning in the battle-sequence. Yet there is something rather ponderous about the enunciation of the vaunting, youthful opening theme; the gaggle of enemies sounds altogether too good-mannered; and for me, at least, the love-music and the glowing rhetoric of ‘The Hero’s Works of Peace’ do not touch the heart.

Considered overall it’s a fine performance, but not one to set aside, say, Karajan’s 1983 rendering with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), or indeed Reiner’s from half a century ago (RCA) – or, to cite a more recent version, Christian Thielemann’s stunning rendition with the Vienna Philharmonic (DG).

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An unexpected coupling, Webern’s youthful, gorgeous Im Sommerwind is the reflective foil to Strauss’s action man, and paradoxically it’s this that makes the disc very well worth acquiring. Haitink renders a performance of great dignity and tenderness, a vision of the Romantic tone-poet Webern could have become had not fate (and Schoenberg) taken a hand. Haitink achieves the feat of investing it with the aura of at least a near-masterpiece. Calum MacDonald