No.8 is usually grouped with the gentler and smaller-forced Beethoven Symphonies. However, Herbert Blomstedt led a performance worthy of it being anointed alongside the ‘Eroica’, Fifth, ‘Choral’ and the Seventh it was paired with here. Blomstedt put an emphasis on both the serene and jovial qualities in music often noted for its humor. Indeed, there was uncommon range throughout, as Blomstedt drew severity and intimacy from the New York Philharmonic. It was not so much that Blomstedt downplayed any elements, but rather did not redouble Beethoven’s work. He allowed the music to blossom. Even by the recapitulation of the first movement, it seemed to have matured. Without pause, Blomstedt commenced the second movement, dodging the often-heard saccharin flavor of the first theme. The balance favored the low strings. The Minuet was quite quick, Blomstedt’s brisk tempo managing to catch the orchestra off-guard, and the remarkable Trio, most often a vehicle for the clarinetist, was chamber music for the two horns as equal collaborators with Anthony McGill. The return of the Minuet was a bit heavier footed, rounding out the movement in a more folk-inspired fashion. The Finale, in Blomstedt’s playing possessed an unusual fury, without even a suggestion of bombast.
Following intermission, given what we had just heard, it did seem a bit backwards-facing to then hear 7, but not for lack of impact. Throughout, the interpretation was more standard, yet never overstating Beethoven’s sforzandos. As before, Blomstedt went directly into the second movement, unapologetically at the marked Allegretto, the tempo consistent and avoiding sentimentality. The Scherzo was swiftly thrown off with fantastic virtuosity by the Philharmonic strings. The Finale galloped out of the gates and concluded with wonderful panache and vigor, with the playing of acting principal second violinist, Lisa Kim, nothing short of breathtaking; her leadership and commitment made the call and responses between the two violin sections thrilling.