Friday, November 20, 2020

Berwaldhallen, Dag Hammarskjölds väg 3, Stockholm

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Civilised evenings come no better. Two masterworks of the Austrian school. A veteran at the helm. A rising soloist barely into his twenties. Artist in Residence with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johan Dalene – signed to BIS: Robert von Bahr has a knack for picking winners with that something extra – won the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition, and has been mentored by Leif Ove Andsnes, Gidon Kremer and Janine Jansen among others. Their faith in him isn’t misplaced. He’s an elegantly groomed player, happy to lend his prodigious technique to the music and let it speak for itself. Neither flamboyance nor fashion come into the equation, just honest, committed music-making, focused and calm.

He did beautiful things with Mozart’s A-major Concerto, K219, his tone and projection dolcissimo, his dynamic range, the risk of some of his echoes, enriching. With reduced forces, Herbert Blomstedt created a conversational dialogue, his players readily responding to Dalene’s expressive sensitivity, familiar faces among the string section enjoying the moment. Enjoying, too, the space Blomstedt afforded them. Watching him, he never rushes, faster note values are naturally shaped and phrased, longer ones are stabilised within the pulse, without a suggestion of dragging or pushing. While apparently doing nothing, he does everything.

It’s a commonplace that the older musicians get the more laboured they become. Blomstedt – perpetually energised, with big projects and recordings in the offing – daily demonstrates the opposite, a conductor who zestfully combines youth and age, appetite and wisdom, in a journey through the classics without a buffer in sight, Pullman class all the way. His take on Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ was joyous and hopeful. A brisk duple-time pulse in the first movement. Andantes on the side of con moto. A gloriously full-throated Scherzo, the Trio yielding in a Viennese way, a pageant of staccato and legato attack, strings and timpani turning harmony into phrased art. A spiralling Finale (omitting the repeat), jousting between dotted and triplet rhythms, the coda’s stabbing forzato motif thrust home. Throughout the attention to detail was invigorating. Strings (violins divided) digging deep, pointed entries, clearness of texture, a viola emphasis here, a thunder of hard-stick kettledrums there. The brass shone, horns from the outset making up for a couple of glitches in the Mozart. Harnessed inexorably to the beat, the woodwind chorused and reflected in the Trio, the accompaniment balanced acutely. By the end the sheer drive, the pulsating, cumulative power, was trenchant.

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra enjoys a warm, supportive relationship with Blomstedt. Succeeding Celibidache, he was its second principal conductor (1977-82). With this performance the players rewarded him grandly – no audience maybe and spaced desks, but electricity, poetry and drama in abundance, tension and resolution, excellence all the way. Uplifting.