BRUCKNER Symphony No 4
Like Sergiu Celibidache, Bernard Haitink is a devoted Brucknerian whose tempi have broadened with the passing years – certainly in the Fourth. His June 1965 Philips recording with the Concertgebouw (of this same 1881 Robert Haas edition) clocked up a comparatively sprightly 63'44" whereas the live recording under review with the LSO from June this year stretches to 69'08". Between the two, and not counting various live recordings on little-known independent labels, comes the 1985 Philips recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, a measured 68'12".
Timings in themselves are, of course, hardly the principal issue, but in this case they do signal a tendency on Haitink’s part to relax the tension, though that’s not always the case. Take, for example, the ‘hunting’ Scherzo third movement, which, although very well played (and recorded, the timps especially), falls somewhat short of the desired dramatic effect. Compare this with either the Jochum recording (Dresden or Berlin) or Karajan (whose horns enter theatrically as from the distance), and the contrast is striking. The finale comes off best, with well-integrated tempi, a patient but impressive initial build-up and very good sound. It’s a worthy, well-judged performance but with so much strong competition around (not least from Haitink himself) doesn’t quite make the shortlist of top recommendations.