Herbert Blomstedt, now ninety-one, an outstanding representative of the European tradition of conductors, offered a program of old favorites, and it is remarkable to witness how much energy and vitality he can still muster on the podium, not to mention his alertness and faultless memory. Even if the program was far from adventurous, it was delightful to hear the First Suite from Grieg’s incidental music to Ibsen’s masterpiece Peer Gynt. Most engaging was the hushed solemnity of ‘Åse’s Death’, one of the most poignant scenes in Ibsen’s drama. Blomstedt captured the serenity of the music while languishing slightly over its dolorous sonorities to underline their Wagnerian hue. ‘Anitra’s Dance’ was simply captivating, and Blomstedt’s gradual acceleration of the opening tempo that sets the mood for ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King” propelled the piece to a furious conclusion.
In his reading of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, Jean-Yves Thibaudet reinforced the contrasts in dynamics and mood, as if to breathe new life into this well-worn masterpiece. In the first movement, strong passages were played with riveting intensity, and made to seem more forceful when following a rather mild treatment of softer lyrical segments that preceded them. At times he gave the impression of distancing himself from the music, yet elsewhere he played with fervent passion. A gentle, yearning quality overlay the dreamy atmosphere of the second movement, and in the Finale Thibaudet again combined aggressive energy with imposing flair that countered the tender sweetness of the second theme, enriching it with a song-like quality, and there was a triumphant close.
In Dvořák 8 Blomstedt maintained a straightforward approach, elicited excellent playing, and splendidly projected the character of each movement. From the warmth and delicacy of the opening cello theme, Blomstedt engendered a flowing motion in the lyrical passages while fortifying the stronger segments with dramatic power, sometimes lifted by horn whoops that embellish the melodic line. In the Adagio, he invoked the pastoral character of the Bohemian countryside enriched with an idiomatic treatment of its folk-tunes. The subsequent movement had a graceful, lilting charm, enlivened by the spirited dance-tunes. Resplendent trumpet tattoos heralded the Finale sounding especially majestic and strikingly resolute. Blomstedt masterfully handled the dramatic contrasts, effortlessly maintaining tempo consistency and impressively balancing the orchestra. It was a treat to hear such a seasoned, intelligent and dedicated conductor perform works we have come to enjoy for nearly a century and a half.