Symphony No. 7
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Challenge Classics CC 72895 68:10 mins
For his last concerts the late Bernard Haitink conducted Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, preceded usually by a concerto, with the Vienna Philharmonic. But for his last concert with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the first orchestra he conducted in 1957, he conducted just the the Seventh, a work for which he felt a profound affinity. Anyone who heard his Proms performance with the VPO will remember its glowing and rich sound. Since that is the VPO’s speciality, it’s not surprising that this recording doesn’t match up to it (and there is already available a DVD and CD of one of the VPO’s concerts).
You can tell a lot from the way the opening is launched, with the tremolo strings and the great rising theme, one of Bruckner’s supreme inspirations. Above all it must glow, and I’m afraid that the NRPO just doesn’t, as the VPO certainly does. What we have is a fine, detailed performance – and it includes the disputed cymbal clash at the climax of the great slow movement, music to celebrate and mourn Richard Wagner – and an account in which the last two movements don’t, as so often, seem an anticlimax. But with such rivals its main interest is sentimental.