Would that today’s generation of – no doubt excellent – young conductors were able to attend this concert of the 95-year old Herbert Blomstedt with the Berlin Philharmoniker. Not necessarily because of the repertoire, squarely German Romantic Schubert and Beethoven symphonies, but because of the freshness of the interpretations, the economy of gesture, the respect for music and what it gives to the interpreter and the listener: youthful energy and hope.

Herbert Blomstedt and the Berliner Philharmoniker
© Frederike van der Straeten

After a fall during the summer, and consequently several cancellations, Blomstedt is back on the concert stage in fine form. Granted, a bit frail and in need of gentle help approaching the podium, but once he sat down and having greeted the already cheering audience with an honoured statesman wave, he gave the downbeat and all vestiges of age-related considerations evaporated. His is not a conducting style with grand gestures; it is a look here, an indication with his hand there, a raised eyebrow, and yes, the occasional sweep of the arm to indicate a particularly grand accent. It is clearly apparent that there is a high degree of mutual respect and understanding between musicians and conductor. In this orchestra, where practically every member is a soloist in his/her own right and who knows this repertoire by heart, it was evident that the Berliner played for Blomstedt as much as for the audience. After all, he has been a guest conductor with them for 46 years!

Both Schubert's Third and Beethoven's Seventh begin with slow introductions in which the composers skilfully build up tension, which is then discharged into faster movements and resolved in an apotheosis of positive energy. Blomstedt took the initial passages calmly, serenely, trying not to put more emphasis into the first two movements of each symphony than they give. And then, when the tempi got more expressive, he simply let the music flow, quite organically releasing the elemental forces intrinsic to the music. His Schubert was charming, with a strong pulse nonetheless; indeed, the Presto vivace finale was pure unleashed energy.

Herbert Blomstedt
© Frederike van der Straeten

Beethoven’s Seventh flashes and shines in the first movement, then transitioning into a quasi funereal march, which Blomstedt turned into a festive celebration. The final movement Allegro con brio was just that – clear joyfulness that encourages dancing in the bright sunlight, a hymn of praise to the sublimity of nature, intoxicated with positive energy. The instant standing ovation and warm applause were as much a tribute to Blomstedt as to the mastery of each of the Berliners.

My editor here at Bachtrack asks us critics to thoroughly consider our star ratings and be especially mindful when giving five stars. This concert deserves six stars and not a single one less!