To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if 1927 was A Very Good Year, then July 1927 must have been an exceptionally good month. It saw the births of conductors Kurt Masur, Michael Gielen and Herbert Blomstedt within nine days of each other. Masur, like Blomstedt a former Music Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, died last December. Gielen announced his retirement in 2014, blaming failing eyesight. At 89, Blomstedt may now be in the autumn of his years, but his conducting is certainly the equivalent of Ol' Blue Eyes' “vintage wine from fine old kegs”, as evidenced in tonight's splendid all-Beethoven Prom with the Gewandhaus.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

When Riccardo Chailly announced his departure from Leipzig last autumn, a few people dismissed out of hand my suggestion that Blomstedt might act in a caretaking capacity until a new music director could take up residence. Andris Nelsons assumes that new post for the 2017-18 season. But Blomstedt is as active as ever. At the time of writing, Bachtrack lists more Blomstedt concerts than Nelsons... and only one engagement behind Valery Gergiev!

Conducting without a baton, and for most of the evening with his scores unused, Blomstedt's style is as vigorous as his Beethoven. Shoulder-led, his hands propelled the music forward, pointed index finger directing the orchestral traffic. His Beethoven is nearly as bracing as Chailly's although the Gewandhaus sound differs. Under Chailly, it was leaner and cleaner. Blomstedt's is just as bracing, but the strings are fuller fat, a velvety praline. Historically-informed practice was limited to antiphonally placed violins and hard timpani sticks, yet the performances were energetic.

Second violins sparred with the Firsts aggressively, double basses rasped fiercely. In the Leonore Overture no. 2 which opened the programme, the clarion trumpet call was superbly dispatched, even if the organ loft was too close to really qualify as “off-stage”. Woodwinds were well blended. In the “Emperor” Concerto, there was dusky flute playing from Sébastian Jacot, followed by Anna Garzuly-Wahlgren's brighter, more silvery tone in the Seventh after the interval.

Sir András Schiff © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Sir András Schiff
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

However, Sir András Schiff's “Emperor” never fully satisfied. After hearing him perform this concerto in Verbier last month, his approach came as no surprise. It still lacked fire and was too genteel for Beethoven, but the difference here was that Schiff (who directed from the keyboard in Verbier) had a conductor who could inject some energy into the performance. As is his preference, Schiff played a Bosendorfer, enjoying much warmer sound than the brittle Steinway in last week's Rachmaninov. His chording favoured the left hand fractionally before the right, but he was at his finest in the serene Adagio, Blomstedt effecting a hushed transition to the finale.

The Seventh Symphony was remarkable for its rhythmic propulsion and muscularity. From the first notes, there was drama and impetus. Blomstedt moved from the first movement straight into the free-flowing Allegretto. The Scherzo tingled with life, the conductor teasing by pulling back at the end of the trio section before uncoiling like a spring into the cantering reprise. The finale bowled along joyously. Blomstedt's only misstep was a brief half-stumble in his eagerness to mount the platform to launch the encore. After a long opening chord pierced the dying applause, the Egmont Overture crackled with epic ferocity. A vintage performance.