When you sustain your artistry at the highest possible standards across many decades, as Herbert Blomstedt has, you deserve a fanfare. And that is exactly what the 93-year-old conductor got to open his digital concert with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he is conductor laureate. Written by his countryman Daniel Bӧrtz, Fanfare for Herbert Blomstedt was a modest and sincere tribute to a modest and sincere man. A beautifully elliptical clarinet theme gradually emerged from the entire orchestra before fading, replaced by applause from the players for their beloved maestro. Seated in a chair onstage for this tribute, Blomstedt’s emotional reaction was evident even behind his mask.

Herbert Blomstedt
© Arne Hyckenberg

The concert proper began with a distinguished performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5 in A major “Turkish”, K219. Blomstedt favored richly blended strings and luxurious tempos that might seem old-fashioned to those weaned on historically-informed performance, but which offered a serious sense of elegance as its reward. Soloist Johan Dalene, 20, displayed a strong artistic instinct and a recognizably individual timbre that sounded developed well beyond his years. He launched clean, high attacks in the Adagio and balanced a sense of playfulness with a disciplined line in the Rondo finale, and throughout he never overused vibrato to artificially enhance his tone. This young man is one to watch.

Herbert Blomstedt and Johan Dalene
© Arne Hyckenberg

As he often does, Blomstedt led Schubert’s Symphony no. 9 in C major, “The Great”, with his conductor’s score left closed on the podium before him. There was little doubt this man knew exactly what he wanted. Like many contemporary conductors, he treated the hour-long piece as a propulsive and unified narrative. The myriad repeated notes throughout could test anyone’s patience in a half-hearted interpretation, but Blomstedt approached any potential problems with intelligence, moderating tempo within movements to create variation and highlighting the composer’s sovereign sense of melody. The interplay of clarinet and oboe at the opening of the second movement was at once lyrical and foreboding — a foreshadow of the anxious, death-steeped Allegro vivace finale. In between, the third movement balanced a lively waltz-like quality without ever completely losing its sense of dread. 

Herbert blomstedt conducts the Swedish RSO
© Arne Hyckenberg

In Blomstedt’s hands, you heard the approach of Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner and even Stravinsky in Schubert’s monumental masterpiece. It was a performance that left the listener feeling as though a lifetime of knowledge and passion had been distilled into a single 60 minutes you hoped would never end.

This performance was reviewed from the Berwaldhallen live video stream