Bernard Haitink, R.I.P.

One of the greatest and most recorded Conductors of all time died today, aged 92.  I truly didn’t appreciate him until I moved to Chicago in the mid eighties and then was privileged to see him guest Conduct over the next few decades.  So many great recordings, but my favorites are Symphonies of Shostakovich and Ralph Vaughn Williams.  In both cases he was the first Conductor of a different nationality than the Composers and he led definitive performances that made them seem less pigeonholed, and more Universal.
R.IP., Uncle Bernie
We used to call him Hijinks at Tower Classics. He may not have been the ultimate choice for every work but he always delivered exceptional quality. One of the go-to conductors. He's on my turntable often. Rest in Peace!
The one weakness in his recorded output was the Beethoven Symphonies, which was weird because he was so excellent in the Piano Concertos, with Arrau, Brendel, and Perahia.  His Concertgebou Mahler and Bruckner grow in stature with each rehearing, but especially in Mahler he must have been overshadowed by the flashier efforts of Bernstein, Solti, and even cult figures like Horenstein.  Those Mahler recordings of Haitink have been released on BluRay Audio and just sound stupendous 
He was a Mahlerian and Brucknerian to be sure. One of my go-to conductors. We're fortunate that his recordings are of outstanding quality.
It is interesting to me that in the early vinyl days the Philips Haitink Concertgebouw recordings were often considered dull.  But as analog equipment became more sophisticated (somewhat after the analog golden age) they started sounding better and better.  So too when digital developed enough to do these recordings justice.  As the NY Times obit headlined, he was the, "Conductor Who Let Music Speak for Itself."  And so our appreciation of what he accomplished grew.  RIP.
The Phillips label of course has been subsumed into a larger label under the Decca banner. When Haitink and Phillips were in their heyday, with seemingly a new release every few weeks, I was a cash poor student and those lps were the most expensive.  I bought a few but it seemed a sacrilege to subject that pristine quiet vinyl to the torture of my cheap turn table. The ones I did purchase I would obsess over cleaning, rechecking the anti skate, trying different tracking weights, etc.  inevitably they would get scuffed up and it would always feel like a friend had died.  I therefore missed out on most of his recordings unless they showed up in the overflow bins of the stores, a rare circumstance.    With CDs being repackaged at bargain basement rates I have caught up with many recordings from those days and marvel anew at the partnership of Haitink and the Concertgebouw.  Such a range of Orchestral Color.
Yes, arguably the greatest conductor this  country has ever had. I grew up with his performances of the Mahler symphonies on the annual Christmas Matinee in the 1970's, broadcast live on national television. Treasured memories for sure.

Some people may not be aware that the typical Philips orchestral sound in the 70's was as much the result of their own  engineering priorities as of the unique characteristics of the Concertgebouw. That space has a miraculous capacity to sound glowingly warm, while at the same time illuminating every little sonic detail. Philips recordings tended to emphasize the hall's warmth, often at the expense of detail. Decca recordings with Haitink's successor Chailly from the 1980's had a different approach, less of the warmth and more of the 'pin drop' detail retrieval. The industry's switch to digital recording that happened around that time may have played a part in that as well. The Concertgebouw was perhaps one of the very few concert halls in the world that actually benefited early digital technology.

By the end of the analogue era Philips finally did nail it with the recording of the orchestral works of Debussy, partly made just prior to Haitink's departure as chief conductor. While 1977's La Mer is still overly lush and soft, 1980's Jeux and Nocturnes have that warm glow AND illuminate every musical detail, no matter how small. The difference is overwhelming. While Haitink is not generally associated with French music, to me this represents his finest hour as a conductor.

I played the whole set again today in his memory and can most 'warmly' recommend it to any music lover.

Thanks edgewear, those are illuminating comments about Phillips and the Concert Hall.  It makes me want to investigate the Chailly Decca recordings, of which I think the only one in my collection is Mahler 3 on SACD.  I always thought that recording was overly clinical.  How do you feel about the Maris Jansons recorded legacy?
  I’ve only been to Amsterdam once, and frustratingly for me it was a few weeks before the Concert season started.  I did take a tour of the Hall.  I have heard the Orchestra on tour once, many years ago, but was bitterly disappointed to have missed them last year due to Covid 
I might have already mentioned this on this website, but it was a radio broadcast of the Philips/Haitink/Concertgebouw performance of Mahler's Fourth that made me a fan of Mahler, Haitink, Philips and the Concertgebouw in one fell swoop.  It was the 1970's. I turned on the tuner and couldn't stop listening until the piece ended and the deejay told me the particulars.  And oh yeah, the broadcast made me a fan of classical vocal music, as well.
Chailly is an interesting conductor for his choice of repertoire. His style was very different from Haitink and more modernist, sometimes considered as clinical not unlike Boulez conducting style. This shows in their way with Mahler, which I don’t particularly enjoy.

Perhaps the best Decca recordings from the CGO in the early 80’s involved Russian music, like the Rachmaninov symphonies under Ashkenazy and several Shostakovich symphonies under Haitink himself.

To get the overwhelming sensation of being in that very hall while in your own living room, try the Rachmaninov no.1.....

Don't know much about Jansons. By the time he took over, I was fully engaged with collecting vinyl records from the 50's and 60's.

Some of the best, and best sounding, Shostakovich by Haitink was recorded by the London Philharmonic. I am thinking specifically of Symphony 15 which is a demo quality recording.

The Ashkenazy Rachmaninov First symphony at the Concertgebouw is another astonishing recording. If the beginning of the Fourth movement doesn’t make you think that your walls have disappeared you may need an upgrade. And yet it’s early digital (1982) and just 16/44. Amazing!

I recall reading that the Concertgebouw is so lively that for recording in the empty hall a curtain was drawn across the middle of the hall seating. A recording like the Ashkenazy is so different from most others that I wonder how the hall was handled in that session.

So many orchestral recordings are being made "live" these days that I think we'll not get the true hall sound so much anymore.  "Live" means lots of very close microphones so that audience noises are minimized.  Strange that recordings of actual concerts are called "live" as though studio recordings that actually sound better are what?  Dead?
I listened to Chailly, on Qobuz in Mahler 5, and then played the SACD version of Haitink in the same work, and the Decca recording is definitely more etched, the Haitink kind of soft in comparison (btw, my first encounter with this work was Haitink leading the London Phil on tour, circa 1977).  Interesting that the 2 recording styles match the performing styles of the 2 conductors, as Chailly is harder edged and while BH is no Kubelik or Walter, he is miles away from Boulez, who seems to have influenced Chailly.  I hated hearing Boulez when he conducted Mahler here in Chicago but have come around to appreciating it, and will now investigate Chailly
  I agree about the Haitink Shostakovich 15th, which I had played recently.  Love the crazy toy shop on Acid ending to that work.
  Who was the soprano in the radio broadcast of the 4th?  Same as the recording?
Cut my teeth on the Solti cycle with Decca, recorded between 1964 and 1971.  I wonder how Decca of that vintage compares with Philips.
Agreed, the Shostakovich no.15 stands as one of Haitink's best performances as well as well as best orchestral recordings of all time.

Back to the Concertgebouw, I agree with the observation that the Ashkenazy recordings sound more spacious than most others made there at the time. Perhaps they did away with that midhall curtain. Another great example of the wide open hall sound is Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances from the same period. But actually Decca gave Ashkenazy a somewhat similar sound for his Sibelius cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra London, recorded in Kingsway Hall. And later also for his Shostakovich symphonies with the RPO, no.4 being a great example. So this wide hall perspective may well have been Ashkenazy's preference. Somewhat underrated as a conductor, these recordings are highly recommended!

As for recorded sound in the 60's and early 70's, there is simply no comparison between Decca and Philips. Snob appeal notwithstanding, there's a 'sound' reason audiophile record collectors are willing to pay a premium for Decca UK pressings.

His discography has virtually no Sibelius, Rachmaninov, or Prokofiev.  Did her perform these Composers?
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