Close on ninety-two he may be but there is nothing stale or laurel-resting about Herbert Blomstedt’s conducting, every concert an adventure to be seized and relished.
This Gothenburg pairing of D-major Symphonies opened with Haydn’s farewell to the form, the only one of his Twelve London Symphonies (93-104) to be distinguished by the titular use of the capital city. This was an imposing performance. Blomstedt – without podium and baton, score unopened, orchestral strings seated in the classic(al) manner – led a grand and searching slow introduction and a sprightly Allegro, just slightly too fast for the most precise violin ensemble but dynamic niceties were not overlooked and there was no doubting that this was alive music-making although more-outspoken horns would have been welcome. Blomstedt, as avuncular as he is animated, eyes glowing with enthusiasm, ensured a slow movement shaped beguilingly and also vividly aware of later divergences. With a Minuet both vigorous yet stately (an amalgam of disparate states achieved through some sort of alchemy), a Trio, although tempo-related to its surrounds that nevertheless eased its expressions compassionately, and a Finale that wasn’t rushed, catching its valedictory aspects and also its verve unerringly (horns now on a cavalry charge), this was a reading of spirit and largesse; if there was a repeat to be observed, Blomstedt did so.
For Mahler’s First (if several revisions later) Blomstedt grew taller (the podium was returned) and previously outlined particulars were as before. This outing refreshed the parts for music that is profligately programmed these days – a dewy dawn conjured immediately, articulate birdsong, mysterious distant (just audible) trumpets, and into a vernal exposition (twice-played), then falling into a black void and with a patient-becoming-exhilarating climb out of it. The Scherzo – pesante yet exuberant – centred on a lilting Trio, on the move if flexible ... contrasted by the surreal slow movement – funeral drum-taps, ‘Frère Jacques’ on double bass, klezmer interruptions and the most-tender of remembrances. The large-scale Finale arrived with suitable subito clash and if the tempest was more about scrupulous musicianship than dramatic volatility and the subsequent (love?) music wasn’t wallowed in (no lack of heart or beauty though) then there was an internal logic at work that satisfied the mood-swings and fitted Blomstedt’s wholesome view of the score, a long-term approach garnering greater ardour and incisiveness leading inevitably to blazing triumph.
As ever Blomstedt then did a conducted tour of the orchestra, shaking hands with as many musicians as he could reach – I expect he’s running in a Marathon soon.