I’ve been a bit disappointed with the interpretive side of Bernard Haitink’s most recent concerts with the Chicago Symphony in Carnegie Hall, but remain mighty impressed by the quality of the orchestra. Under Haitink’s interim leadership between music directors Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti (in tandem with Pierre Boulez), the orchestra remains one of the world’s greatest, and has even taken on a richer wind sound.
Their recording of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, in surround SACD format on CSO Resound, the Chicago Symphony’s in-house label, has just hit stores on this side of the Atlantic. Haitink’s fiery recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips (still available on CD and briefly available on SACD) has long been a favorite of mine, but this new one eclipses it in every category. Haitink takes broader tempos, uses rubato liberally, and lets the CSO be the CSO — while eliciting the best-balanced performance I’ve heard on disc. CSO concertmaster Robert Chen plays the solo music in “The Hero’s Companion” with just the right touch of humor, and the great battle scene is the most satisfyingly climactic I’ve heard since Mengelberg.
The coupling, a luscious reading of Webern’s early, brief symphonic poem Im Sommerwind, strongly contrast with the main course. It’s easily the best recording I’ve yer heard of this underexposed and worthy work.
I was none too pleased with sonics of the first few CD releases on CSO Resound, and am pleased to report that the present release, produced by Telarc alum James Mallinson and engineered by Christopher Willis, is one of the finest sounding recent releases I’ve heard. This Heldenleben is already on my short list for the 2010 Best of the Year.
Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben
Anton Webern: Im Sommerwind*
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Producer: James Mallinson
Engineer: Christopher Willis
Recorded live, December 2008 and *April 2009
CSO Resound CSOR 901 1004 (Hybrid Surround SACD)