Friday's concert began with the Symphony No. 3. This is my favourite of the Brahms symphonies, and the opening is always quite difficult to pull off, due in general to over-enthusiasm on the trumpet part. Despite the opening difficulty, and a couple of later wobbles in the woodwind, it was overall a good performance. Octogenerian Haitink had a senior conductor moment afterwards as he attempted to exit the stage not into the back-stage area, but into the stalls instead. Impassive as always, he shrugged it off. After the interval we had the Piano Concerto No. 1. Ax (who bears a disturbing passing resemblance to David Starkey) played diligently and deliberately; the tempo, especially in the first movement, was on the slow side but this made for a very effective performance. Both Ax and Haitink appear on the diffident side, charmingly reluctant to accept the audience's applause. Ax gave a Schumann encore.
On Saturday, I wavered due to early afternoon rain, but decided to go anyway, and I'm certainly glad I did. Of course there were many people who had also decided to go to both these concerts, but it was quite unlikely that I should end up with the same ticket number (48), and the same position in the arena (a few rows back, but very central) for both. This time the concert began with the concerto, Piano Concerto No. 2. An even longer work than the first, Ax was totally on form, and so were the orchestra. In the second half, we had the Symphony No. 4. I was particularly struck in the first movement by the effectiveness of the antiphonal layout of the orchestra. It's difficult when something is hyped up in advance, but yes, I think this deserved the label "revelatory Brahms". We'd have loved an encore, but Haitink did look tired afterwards. He deserves a decent retirement, though I'm grateful he has not decided to take it quite yet.