In these days of flamboyant incompetence and tasteless mediocrity, it is a wonderful thing to still have Bernard Haitink alive and well and conducting. First of all, Haitink is a supremely competent conductor with a superb baton technique and an almost unmatched ability to balance an orchestra and shape a movement. Second of all, Haitink is a supremely tasteful conductor who never imposes his will on the music through his interpretations, but rather allows the interpretation to arise from the music. Alas, neither of these qualities is much in evidence these days.
Nor, seemingly, are these qualities much valued, hence this disc of Haitink conducting Brahms with the London Symphony on LSO Live and not Philips or EMI. This is, of course, Philips and EMI's loss because Haitink and the LSO's performances of Brahms' delightful Serenade No. 2 and courageous Symphony No. 3 are as fine and as deep as any new recordings of the works in the past quarter century. Haitink's Serenade is bright and cheerful and romantic in the most bucolic possible sense and his Symphony is warm and passionate and immensely moving. In both pieces, the LSO plays with virtuosity and dedication and the live sound is a real and vivid as anything recorded in the studio by one of the major labels. Anyone who loves great conducting and especially great Brahms conducting will love this disc.