WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: French National Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: V 4937
The interpretations of a great Mahler conductor deserve to be captured every decade or two, so Haitink’s third performance of the Sixth Symphony on CD, courtesy of Radio France, ought to have been worth an airing. In fact, it enlightens us with little more than his customary grip on Mahler’s mighty structures. He drives home the return of the grim march after the first-movement development, makes an aristocratic case for the high noon of the scherzo’s ‘old-fashioned’ trio and rides the tidal wave of the Andante’s great climax. The alliance between orchestra and conductor, sadly, is far from a holy or an especially dynamic one, with Haitink’s slightly laid-back majesty hardly illuminated by the playing.
Apart from one too-early bass clarinet entry in the third movement and some dim woodwind in the finale’s introduction, the French National Orchestra presents a glossy enough front. But the strings, shored up by an especially rich if rather relentless wall of brass, seem curiously dead behind the eyes. It’s not a company one wants to keep for the duration of the mighty finale. And why the removal of that all-important exposition repeat in the first movement? The thought crossed my mind that the extra four minutes may have been shorn to accommodate the performance on an 80-minute CD. Whatever the case, it seems uncharacteristic in such a master of proportion as Haitink. A far and rather hollow cry, then, from the feral intensities of Tilson Thomas, and all the more disproportionate to the cover’s powerful Magnum image. David Nice