Friday, March 4, 2022

Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Guest Reviewer, Susan Stempleski

For this New York Philharmonic concert, the ninety-four-year-old Herbert Blomstedt took on two heavyweight Symphonies, pairing Carl Nielsen’s Fourth, in which the composer expresses “the spirit of life”, with another life-affirming work, Beethoven’s Fifth. Before playing any music, Blomstedt addressed the audience: “The New York Philharmonic and I want to dedicate this concert to the suffering people of Ukraine. On the waves of music, we join them in longing for peace and freedom.” They then launched into a splendidly moving treatment of the Ukrainian national anthem.

After rousing applause had died down, Blomstedt led an impassioned account of Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’ Fourth Symphony (FS76/Opus 29; 1916). If you didn’t know the conductor’s age, you could not have guessed it from seeing him in action. Spry and sure-footed, conducting from memory and without a baton, he used his graceful, unfussy gestures to elicit a glowing performance, surging with vitality and completely conveying all the drama and power in the score. The opening had tremendous fire, and the final section was especially thrilling with some fine playing from the winds, and involving the timpani impressively deployed at opposite sides of the stage.

In Blomstedt’s experienced hands Beethoven’s Fifth received a radiant, unforced performance, totally free of excess. The first movement was gripping while maintaining intensity, the slow movement smoothly refined, the Scherzo by turns forceful and enigmatic, and the Finale exhilarating and triumphant. Textures were clean and tempos on the quick side, balances handled with great care, so that solo voices, especially from the winds, held their own against swirling strings and blazing brass. This beautifully shaped reading brought the evening to a jubilant close.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven 4 & Nielsen 5; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich; 2015.