Saturday, October 2, 2021

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

The indomitable Herbert Blomstedt (he recently turned ninety-four) – firm of walk, straight of back (slight stoop aside), no chair required, the score in front of him remaining closed – here led the Berliners in Bruckner’s majestic and spiritually searching Fifth Symphony (Nowak’s edition), sculpting the music with his hands and young-at-heart/enthusiastic facial gestures.

Wonderment from the strings and sonorous/seamless brass informed the slow introduction, dovetailing immaculately into a dignified if directional Allegro, cannily transitioned within itself, a wide dynamic range exploited (effortlessly broadcast), between awed sacredness and full-power tuttis as if a mighty fortress was being constructed, with elements of thrill increasing as the roof was added in the coda.

The Adagio was launched to a definite pizzicato tread, Albrecht Mayer’s oboe solo richly expressive, soulful melodies gloriously moulded without overlooking a certain agony (Bruckner at his most believing), and we were on our way to an ecstatic climax via reminiscing and repetition, each aspect, not least angelic woodwind contributions (Blomstedt inspiring rather than imposing upon the musicians), carefully threaded into an indivisible whole. (During the silence that followed the movement’s conclusion, Blomstedt air-punched and smiled his satisfaction to the players.) There followed a vital, incident-packed, reading of the Scherzo, dance-elements rhythmically sprung if integrated to the bigger picture; no disjunctions allowed. The Trio, easily sagged, was kept on the move for a terpsichorean treat.

The large-scale, multifarious, Finale, that starts with a look-back to the first two movements, is perked by a cheeky clarinet, and involves a brass chorale and a complex fugue (the latter ideally pointed and clarified, no doubt Blomstedt’s antiphonal violins, basses left-positioned behind the firsts, helped the cause) and there was also a buoyancy to the faster music that delighted. It probably goes without saying that Blomstedt the master architect ensured that the Symphony’s resounding conclusion grew organically from what had gone before to crown this compelling close-on eighty-minute performance.

In response to cheering there was mutual appreciation between conductor and orchestra … and an audience standing ovation. Superb sound and picture.