Bruckner Symphony No 8; Mozart Symphony No 38
In August 2002 Bernard Haitink began a brief two-year reign as chief conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle. His inaugural concert was not so much a baptism of fire as a trial by inundation. While the orchestra was playing in Salzburg, a series of storms struck central Europe. Parts of Salzburg were flooded but that was as nothing to the floods that struck Dresden when the Elbe burst its banks. Back in Dresden on September 2, a fund-raising concert was held in the largely undamaged Kulturpalast. Mozart’s Prague Symphony preceded Strauss’s Alpine. In December, when the Semperoper was partly reopened, Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was performed.
The existence in Profil’s Edition Staatskapelle Dresden of a Rudolf Kempe performance of the Alpine Symphony probably put paid to the idea of the September 2 concert being kept in one piece, which is a pity since Haitink’s fine 1985 Concertgebouw recording of the Alpine (Philips, 4/86) is no longer available.
The Bruckner Eighth is none the less a valuable addition to the Haitink discography. Unlike his over-hasty 1969 Concertgebouw performance and his more considered but indifferently played 1996 Vienna Philharmonic remake, this is both vital and grand. You could argue that on record the slowing to the climax of the Adagio sounds mannered, as does the protracted delivery of the symphony’s two final bars, but the performance itself is very much of a piece. The Dresden playing is superb, mellow and golden-toned, caught in an acoustic that has warmth and elasticity.
The Mozart receives a well bred performance, stylish and free-flowing. I suspect it was also better scaled, less big band, than the acoustic of the Kulturpalast would occasionally have us believe.