Saturday, September 23, 2023

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

While the Enescu Festival was hosting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, with Klaus Mäkelä (Debussy, Faune and La mer) and Yuja Wang (both of Ravel’s Piano Concertos), the venerable Herbert Blomstedt was in Berlin conducting the thematically cross-referenced Metamorphosen and ‘Eroica’ Symphony, for the second time of asking this week, with a third date scheduled for tomorrow.

Blomstedt, for all that he is now well into his nineties, remains a force for musical good. He was also at this year’s Enescu Festival, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, for two memorable back-to-back concerts,, and,

His conducting of Strauss’s Metamorphosen (1945) – for twenty-three solo strings, completed during the final months of World War II, and concluding by quoting a few bars from the ‘Funeral March’ of the Beethoven, Strauss writing “In memoriam” in the score at this point – was spacious, eloquent and intimate, expressing the elderly composer’s deepest and saddest feelings, his art-filled world shattered by conflagration, played beautifully (Vineta Sareika-Völkner, concertmaster, first among equals) but not with that quality as the prime objective, the expansive expression empathetic and heartfelt, also impassioned at times, the individual lines welding into a linear and contrapuntal masterpiece, Blomstedt giving the music time to breathe and speak volumes, which it did for thirty compelling and haunting minutes, each note made significant, the final subdued chord followed by a lengthy appreciative silence before an ovation rang out.

The ‘Eroica’ (Symphony No.3) was hallmarked by Blomstedt’s experience and wisdom, Beethoven’s humanity to the fore, the conductor’s score characteristically remaining unopened as he led a cobweb-free account of vitality, vivid detailing and pertinent dynamic variance, the first movement (with exposition repeat) fleet yet poised and shapely, transparently sounded (winds prominent, strings more or less at full strength, violins antiphonal, left-positioned basses), certain of its direction and arrival. The ‘Funeral March’ had both a pulse and universal oratory (a word for Albrecht Mayer’s oboe solos) building inevitably to an intense climax riposted by a desolate envoi, followed by a surreptitious Scherzo of contrasting volumes with superb horns in the Trio, Stefan Dohr leading. The Finale, launched attacca, was fully mercurial, then impressively imposing, with the coda life-enhancing.

Blomstedt’s next conducting engagements are in Tokyo with the NHK Symphony, including Bruckner Five.