Bruckner’s charming Symphony #5 has many difficult joints.  Unfortunately, that meant that, at the Salzburg Festival tonight, Bernard Haitink and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra limped through a somewhat arthritic performance.  At moments, glimpses of their more youthful days flickered, and overall the performance may have worked, but this is perhaps the hardest of Bruckner’s symphonies to perform, and on the whole I am not sure they succeeded.

This symphony has many delicate moments, often with a pronounced pizzicato.  Done right they can be aetherial.  But the orchestra tonight hesitated at times, and came in too harshly at others, losing the flow.  The joints creeked.  The inner harmonies sometimes jarred off-pitch.  The chorales did not always soar.

On the other hand, the orchestra did allow the underlying influence of Beethoven and Schubert to emerge.  Beethoven’s Fourth, another oft-forgotten symphony full of charm, had inspired Bruckner here, and tonight’s performance contained sufficient glimpses.

Honestly, it was not a bad performance, just a disappointing one.  Neither the orchestra nor Haitink (whom I do not believe I have seen conduct live since my London year in 1991-92) were as agile as they once were, and for a symphony that changes directions so many times, often mid-phrase, they simply could not always manage.

Also impacting my experience were the acoustics: I got a ticket in the back downstairs, and now know that the sound upstairs (even in the last row up top) is better in this hall.


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