Continuing the Dutch Master's London Symphony Orchestra triptych at Lincoln Center, Bernard Haitink went on to the second performance of the Symphonic Masters 3 series: Schubert's 8th Symphony and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.
Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, the Eighth, was given from a Zen master who just smoked a Dutch Master and was blissing out between a few glasses of Sancerre. Mellowness marked the two movements with a rich, soft dynamic, and smoldering notes. Haitink expressed perfect control coupled with an effortless intensity. Allegro kept sadness at bay with powerful crescendi, never muscled or brash. Andante was deliberately slow, but boasted a breathlessness that allowed the orchestra room to breathe. All in all, an unexciting but highly musical reading from a luscious baton.
Das Lied von der Erde went down under the shadow of some bad mojo: it was preceded by an announcement that tenor Richard Margison was ill with a cold, but would soldier on regardless. Whispers abound, but mainly over the discrepancies within the playbill, which listed Robert Gambill as the soloist [ed: according to a yellow insert in the evening's playbill, sick Canadian tenor Richard Margison was performing on short notice for an equally sick Robert Gambill -- hence Margison's reading from the score, hence Margison being unable to cancel due to coincidentally bad sickness mojo -- a tough spot all-around]. A prudent announcement, as Margison began Das Trinklied underpowered, underwhelming, wobbly, and lots of breathy glancing at his score. He grew slightly stronger as the work progressed, but never broke out of the spell. Someone hand him some Nyquil, a humidifier, and get him to bed.
Haitink's Das Lied was deliciously expressive -- both orchestra and soloist introspective and resonant-- but the performance lacked the sort of enchantment that Das Lied sometimes dispenses. Haitink, a conductor blessed with the gift of transparency, often went minimalist -- undoubtedly majestic, crystalline, and billowing -- but then at times he lunged forward, leonine, frighteningly raw and heaving, making you wish he had kept the temperature slightly higher, the sense of transfiguration more present (hard to forget the late great Giuseppe Sinopoli's interpretation). Haitink led the London Symphony Orchestra in a stirring, powerful vision of Mahler's work. But there was an overall lack of cohesion in the great maestro's vision that slightly -- slightly -- dampened the evening.