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The Art Of Bernard Haitink Box set

Price: CDN$ 43.84 & FREE Shipping. Details
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An esteemed conductor at super-bargain price, with only a few duds in the mix March 17 2009
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on
Format: Audio CD
At super-budget price this 7-CD box set will be an appealing buy for newcomers to Bernard Haitink. However, he has been around for 50 years (as the product description notes, the Dvorak Seventh included here, a vigorous, even exultant reading, was Haitink's first orchestral recording, made in 1959), so many collectors will already own much of what's here. Before making any decision, it helps to know the contents of these CDs:

Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123, Sz.116

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony No. 3 in D minor `Wagner Symphony'

1877 version

Wiener Philharmoniker

La Mer

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Festklänge, symphonic poem No. 7, S101

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan'

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Ma Mère l'Oye

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 'Unfinished'

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Má Vlast: Vltava

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Strauss, R:
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Scherzo a la Russe

Berliner Philharmoniker

The Rite of Spring

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Tristan und Isolde: Prelude & Liebestod

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Nothing is a new performance, although a few items, like the remake of the Bruckner Third with the Vienna Phil., are long deleted. It's worth nnoting that Haitink's use of the 1877 edition of this work, the second of three that the composer made, sets him apart from most conductors, like Karajan and Wand, who use the later edition of 1889. (If only this performance were more exciting.) As for the general level of the interpretations, Haitink will always seem a tad dull and conventional to some listeners, while others will praise him for his scrupulous musicality and personal modesty. I fall somewhere in between, but even if you pick and choose among Haitink's very large output as I do, Decca has done a good job bringing forward a selection from the most acclaimed of his recordings.

Any duds? To my mind, they could have left the Beethoven Seventh and Schubert 'Unfinished' behind; both are too middle-of-the-road. By the same logic they should have turned to Haitink's early Brahms Third with the Concertgebouw rather than the later, more staid version from Boston. Compared with fiery Russian accounts, particularly from Mravinsky, Haitink's Shostakovich Tenth is a little short on bite and intensity. But we are still talking about premium performances at a price lower than Naxos, so there's not much room for serious complaining.

As this enduring conductor turns 80, you'll already know if Haitink's style appeals to you, and if it does, here's a treaure trove of his leading recordings.