When this deeply thoughtful account of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony came to its end I was reminded of a line from Bob Dylan’s song "It ain’t dark yet, (but it’s getting there)" on his album Time Out of Mind, where he sings, "I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still." You had the sense of an immense journey having taken place, but at its close you realised that you had somehow been in the same place throughout. It was a presentation of Bruckner’s vision as fully achieved from the outset - and what an outset it was: David Pyatt’s horn playing of the opening horn call was marvellous both in its humanity (a euphemism for frailty, a slight tremble, but all the more beguiling for that) and the subtlety of its inflexion. The first three calls are simply marked mezzoforte - immer deutlich hervortretend [moderately loud - distinctly prominent throughout] but within that dynamic Pyatt found space for the hint of a call and echo dialogue, and with that magic, and the help of the string tremolo, he created space, an immense imagined landscape upon which the architecture of the ensuing vast symphony was constructed.
This was a serious performance that chose not to delight in the bucolic or more wildly joyful flourishes, but rather present the symphony as a thing of almost classical beauty composed on the firm foundation of a transcendent vision. At first I missed the exuberant joy you can often hear in the trumpet and horn inversions of the duplet-triplet main theme, and there was precious little humour in the chirruping bird-song second subject, but this sobriety was more than compensated for by the rapt beauty of such quiet moments as that in which the flute weaves a garland above the returning horn call near the beginning of the development; indeed, the quiet moments were, without exception, spell-binding. The violas were glorious in their tender second subject in the Andante, and because of Haitink’s unerring sense of proportion, in preference to suggesting continuing progress even in this ‘processional’ movement, the glorious climax and its wind-down into the soft steady drumbeats of the coda was as powerful and expressive as you could ever have prayed for.
The Scherzo shone with brilliance and the contribution of the trombones was marvellously crisp and corruscating, and here the first and second horns’ triplets seemed to smile as they replied to the violins’ descending second theme - or at least, they made me smile, every time; and the simplicity of the Trio’s lilting ländler rhythm and clarinet and flute melody were the perfect foil to the Scherzo’s crowded superimposition of fanfares. Once again, in the Finale, the benefits of Haitink’s approach paid off handsomely: never did you have the sense that the movement had lost its way, and this was because it wasn’t disfigured by misguided attempts to urge it on, give it a sense of progress that it doesn’t require. As Haitink in his concert interview associated with the BBC broadcast said, in this movement you find that ‘monumentality’ of Bruckner’s style, the grand unison tuttis, and this came across but never too portentously, nothing over-indulged. The orchestral texture was beautifully balanced, always clear, and as the coda arose out of the silence that momentarily precedes it, suddenly we were back where we began, with that opening horn call, writ large, and it became apparent that although for over an hour we were deeply moved, we had in our hearts stayed very still, with time out of mind.
Before the Bruckner, Maria João Pires gave a dream of a performance of the Mozart’s last Piano Concerto, displaying a transparent, limpid beauty, all of it obviously very carefully considered but played as though flowing spontaneously from the heart, passionate but beautifully controlled. Haitink and the LSO were perfect accompanists and communication between soloist and orchestral players was attentive and complete throughout. They knew exactly how much overt expressive nuance to apply, no inappropriate exaggerations, no overdone emphasis, but within their chosen restraint there was a wealth of dynamic, rhythmic and melodic variety - Mozart playing at its finest. Especially remarkable was Pires’ handling of the two Mozart cadenzas, in the first and final movements, where the subtle grading of the range of dynamics was absolutely enchanting, and in the Larghetto the contrast between quiet introspection and the occasional flowering of full orchestral colour seemed to get to the emotional heart of the work.
(This concert was the second of two with identical programmes. Murray Perahia had been scheduled to play the Schumann Piano Concerto, but in the event had to withdraw. Maria João Pires stepped in at short notice and the programme changed to have the Mozart Concerto No.27 as a prelude to the Bruckner. Reports from the first of the two concerts suggest that the performance of Bruckner’s 4th was perhaps a little less inspired on Tuesday 14th of April than it became at this second concert.)